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Giant Steps: The power of creatives working together

More than 100 Twin Cities’ creatives gathered last week in the Minneapolis Convention Center for the fifth annual Giant Steps, an all-day conference for “entrepreneurial creatives and creative entrepreneurs.” Giant Steps featured three plenary panel conversations, covering broad topics like overcoming creative and practical challenges, defining success and scaling a creative business. Smaller breakout sessions included “Finding Your Audience/Finding Your Niche,” “Tax: Thinking Outside the Shoebox” and “Self-Care for Creatives.”
 
Founded by Susan Campion of Camponovo Consulting and M.anifest, a Ghana-born hip hop artist with close ties to the Twin Cities, Giant Steps is all about helping local creatives, freelancers and self-employed “independents” overcome obstacles to creative and financial success. This year’s conference was hosted by Campion, who’s also a professor at the University of St. Thomas, and Kevin Beacham, a DJ, hip-hop historian and manager at Rhymesayers.
 
According to Giant Steps, attendees included people from all over the creative spectrum: “Chefs, designers, dancers, architects, photographers, playwrights, film-makers, inventors [and] hip hop artists.”
 
“We believe we'll learn more and learn faster if we cast a wider net—connecting with and learning from folks beyond our current discipline or industry,” according to the Giant Steps’ website. “By creating conversations around interesting examples and challenges we all share, we set the stage for cross-pollination and future collaborations.”
 
Giant Steps’ three panel conversations shaped the dialogue. In the morning, “Resilience: Overcoming Challenges and Moving Forward” found four local entrepreneurs and artists (including Teresa Fox of Glam Doll Donuts) sharing insights on early roadblocks to creative and financial success—writer’s block, business setbacks and more. “Success: How Do You Define It and How Does It Define You?” featured dancer/choreographer Ananya Chatterjea, founder of Ananya Dance Theater, and three others, discussing the importance of setting manageable goals and crafting a long-term creative or entrepreneurial vision.
 
The final panel conversation, “Good Problems to Have: Insights on Scaling Your Work and Increasing Your Impact,” featured four successful “creative entrepreneurs” who have “graduated” to managing sizable teams: Chris Cloud of MPLS.TV, Joan Vorderbruggen of Made Here and the Hennepin Theater Trust, Mark Fox of creative-friendly Fox Tax and Maurice Blanks of local modern furniture designer Blu Dot.
 
All talked about what drove them to move beyond the “independent” mindset and recruit teams to work under them. “We started with the narcissistic assumption that our need”— fashionable furniture at an affordable price—“was shared by others [in the Twin Cities],” said Blanks, whose company now has nearly 100 employees. “The initial goal was to create jobs we liked.”
 
Campion, who moderated the conversation, asked the panelists about limits to growth as well. “The most important thing we learned was when to say ‘no,’” said Fox. “You never want quality to suffer” as a result of ambition.
 
For Vorderbruggen, success—specifically, managing a team of artists for the Hennepin Theater Trust—meant sticking up for her fellow creatives. Asked by Campion what prerogatives her newfound power provided, she recalled convincing her superiors not to request free work from artists. “If I’m getting paid, my artists are getting paid,” she said.
 
Vorderbruggen also talked about staying in tune with the creative community as she transitioned to an oversight role. She was instrumental in putting together a panel that represented the diversity of Minneapolis’ arts community, ensuring that many viewpoints would be included in Made Here’s work.
 
Giant Steps packed a lot of insight into a single day, but the theme that tied it together was simple: Creatives and entrepreneurs have more in common than they might think—and they’re more powerful when they work together.
 
“You need to make sure that others know what you stand for,” said Cloud, “and know when to rely on people who can do a great job at things you might not be so good at.”
 

HOTROCITY: A local e-shop for fashionistas

You no longer need to bike to the boutique to find the latest in Twin Cities fashion. With HOTROCITY, a Minneapolis-based e-shop run by model, blogger, event promoter and fashion guru John-Mark, you can shop for local designs in the comfort of your living room. Still, you may want to pedal over to Public Functionary on Friday (October 17), where HOTROCITY will be featured during an open-admission launch party.
 
HOTROCITY launched at the beginning of October, drawing inspiration from (among many others) local artist Jesse Draxler, “the exquisite personal style” of Twin Cities’ fashionista Sarah Edwards and the collaborative fashion blog MPLSTYLE, which John-Mark ran with locals Drew Krason and Savanna Ruedy.
 
HOTROCITY specializes in such items as pendants, bracelets, earrings and bags, made right here in the Twin Cities. Featured local designers include East Fourth Street, Silver Cocoon and Objects & Subjects. Some items are instantly memorable, like Silver Cocoon’s “Moon Rabbit Rice Pack Draw String” and Objects & Subjects’ “Bullet Bracelet” (yes, those are shell casings).
 
“At HOTROCITY, we have a very unique relationship with each individual designer,” says John-Mark. “It's been so much fun getting to know [them all]. We're pretty flexible with our designers and do our best to accommodate wherever they're at in their own journey as artists and business people.”
 
Though the focus is on local artists, HOTROCITY also curates designs from creatives in L.A., Chicago, Seoul and Shanghai. And John-Mark is always on the hunt for new looks, wherever they’re found.
 
“We have an intensive checklist of standards to ensure that we're providing our customers with high quality product, manufactured with care,” he says. To keep things fresh, he adds, HOTROCITY will add to its lineup on a monthly basis and “do an aggressive turnover of store product bi-annually.”
 
HOTROCITY launched after a year of “brainstorming how I could foster a greater impact on the local design community that extended beyond blogging,” says John-Mark. He paired with Irv Briscoe of VON91, a web design agency based in downtown Minneapolis, to craft an arresting website and e-commerce platform: “something notorious,” according to the website.
 
John-Mark expects the “relentless creativity” of the Twin Cities to seal HOTROCITY’s success. The region isn’t known as a fashion hub, but there’s enough inspiration here to support a locally focused fashion boutique.
 
“This is an easy job when I see all the talent we have in the local design community,” he says. “Starting a business can be scary, but I've seen enough positive growth in our design community to be confident in the sustainability of HOTROCITY.”
 
John-Mark is a big fan of the buy-local concept, too. “Most women make the pilgrimage to Uptown, the Mall of America or the Internet to buy clothing or accessories at least once a year, if not more,” he says. “Wouldn't it be great if that shopping also supported local artists?”
 

Arts on Chicago encourages stakeholders to own the dirt

A $200,000 grant from the Bush Foundation could dramatically transform the Chicago Avenue streetscape over the next decade. The two-year Community Innovation Grant, awarded to Arts on Chicago, will fund existing artistic placemaking projects on Chicago Avenue between 32nd and 42nd Streets.

The corridor sits at the intersection of the Powderhorn, Bancroft, Central and Bryant neighborhoods, and local Arts on Chicago stakeholders include the Pillsbury House & Theater, Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, Upstream Arts, Wing Young Huie’s Third Place gallery and local artist/MCAD professor Natasha Pestich.
 
The Bush Foundation grant will also facilitate the development of a Creative Community Development Plan, to be finalized in 2016, that dovetails with the City of Minneapolis’ 38th & Chicago Small Area Plan. According to Mike Hoyt, Pillsbury House & Theater’s Creative Community Liaison, the grant will provide direct support for 8 to 12 artists engaged in creative placemaking projects around the neighborhood. The subsequent CCDP could build on this foundation, offering equity in development projects to local artists and other community members, though discussions are still in the early stages.
 
Thanks to a $150,000 grant from Artplace America in 2012, Arts on Chicago has already begun or completed about 20 small-scale placemaking projects along the 10-block corridor. “Since they last for just one year, ArtPlace grants compel you to sprint to accomplish everything you’ve planned,” says Hoyt, adding that the 2012 grant allowed Arts on Chicago to chart an ambitious path forward.
 
“We used to envision ourselves as a creative and cultural hub for the community,” he adds. “We’re now in the process of building a web of artistic assets across the area.” Arts on Chicago, and any initiatives that arise out of its Creative Community Development Plan, may eventually broaden to include the entire area bounded by 35W, Lake Street, Cedar Avenue and 42nd Street, with funding for creative placemaking projects throughout.
 
The overarching goal is to use art-focused placemaking to empower the entire cross-section of community members, including those whose agency and input has been limited until now. As the area’s character changes, says Hoyt, Arts on Chicago aims to turn local creatives into stakeholders, providing equity—“owning the dirt,” he says—so that they can’t easily be displaced by development.
 
“We’re trying to create a growth and development plan that doesn’t force people out,” he says, “but there’s still a lot we don’t know.” Conversations with Twin Cities’ policy makers and traditional community development efforts are ongoing. Arts on Chicago is also funding temporary research assistant positions, awarded to four Humphrey Institute students in late September, to canvas the community and get a better sense of locals’ needs and wants.
 
More ambitiously, Arts on Chicago is exploring hybrid approaches beyond traditional nonprofit models to facilitate sustainable development that empowers and enriches current residents. Hoyt cites the Northeast Investment Cooperative’s model, as well as “social venture” models in use elsewhere. Such plans could be particularly attractive in the Central neighborhood, which Hoyt says has a housing vacancy rate of more than 10 percent.

“A surplus of housing creates more opportunities to keep people in place” using existing assets, says Hoyt. But these efforts would require buy-in and support from other organizations, he cautions, and could take years to bear fruit.
 
“The most important thing now is tracking, measuring and assessing” Arts on Chicago’s initial placemaking work, and putting plans in place to build on its successful elements, says Hoyt. “It might take 5 to 10 years to see a real impact on the communities we serve.”
 

 

Dino bike rack, Hmong fashion: Knight Arts Challenge winners

The Knight Foundation recently announced 42 winners of its first-ever St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge. The challenge tasked applicants with answering this question: “What’s your best idea for the arts in St. Paul?” The grants, totaling nearly $1.4 million, recognize creative initiatives from the Far East Side to St. Anthony Park.
 
In addition to providing their best ideas for the arts in St. Paul, the Knight Foundation requires successful applicants to demonstrate that that project will either “take place in or benefit St. Paul,” according to a release from the foundation. And each applicant must find funds to match the Knight Foundation’s awards. Some of notable winners include:
 
The “Smallest Museum in St. Paul,” $5,000
A project of almost-open WorkHorse Coffee Shop, in the Creative Enterprise Zone in St. Anthony Park, the “Smallest Museum in St. Paul” will be really, really small—a vintage fire-hose cabinet that couldn’t even hold a Labrador retriever. The museum will host rotating collections of artifacts, art and memorabilia from the neighborhood’s vibrant creative and academic communities. The first exhibit is scheduled for June. Future exhibits must follow three simple rules: celebrate local themes or history, engage the coffee shop’s patrons, and avoid high-value, theft-prone artifacts.
 
Fresh Traditions Fashion Show, $35,000
The Center for Hmong Arts and Talent won a sizable grant to expand its Fresh Traditions Fashion Show, the Twin Cities’ “only culturally inspired fashion event that exhibits the creativity, originality and quality of work by Hmong designers,” according to the Knight Foundation. At the show, designers must incorporate five traditional Hmong fabrics into clothing that hews to contemporary fashion. Part of the Knight Foundation grant will be set aside for career support and skills-building classes for individual designers.

Radio Novelas on the East Side, $50,000
Nuestro Pueblo San Pablo Productions, led by Barry Madore, will use its Knight award to produce a series of 20 fictional radio novelas that celebrate the history and culture of the East Side’s Latino community. Madore plans to promote the series with three live shows at yet-to-be-named venues around the district. Like Fresh Traditions Fashion Show designers, participating performers can count on support and training from Madore and his partners.
 
Paleo-osteological Bike Rack, $40,000
Artist and paleo-osteological interpreter Michael Bahl has plans to fabricate the bronze skeleton of a large dinosaur-like animal in repose, with its ribcage functioning as a bike rack. That bony crest on its skull? A bike helmet. The work focuses on how prehistoric skeletons, which are obsessed over by scientists and fossil hunters around the world—can also be viewed as works of art. “When the individual bones are joined in a united effort, a skeleton becomes the ultimate functioning mechanism, or in this case, a whimsical bike rack,” according to Knight’s website.

Twin Cities Jazz Festival, $125,000
More established organizations got a slice of the pie, too. The largest single grant went to the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. The annual festival already draws more than 30,000 attendees, but organizers wanted to add more stage space and spring for better-known headliners. Performers have yet to be announced for next year’s event, in June, but executive director Steve Heckler is considering a move to the brand-new St. Paul Saints stadium, in the heart of Lowertown. That would create more seating space and facilitate pedestrian traffic from the Green Line stop at Union Depot.
 
The St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge will continue through 2016, with two more rounds of awards. All told, the foundation has earmarked $4.5 million to fund creative ideas, plus another $3.5 million for five established St. Paul arts institutions: Springboard for the Arts, Penumbra Theater, TU Dance, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and The Arts Partnership. St. Paul is just the fourth city to participate in the Knight Arts Challenge, after Miami, Detroit and Philadelphia.
 

TechDump expands job and recycling opportunities

Tech Dump, a technology recycling nonprofit based in Golden Valley, opened a second location on North Prior Avenue in St. Paul on September 22. The facility collects more than a dozen varieties of tech waste, from old computer monitors and TVs to batteries, cell phones and printer cartridges.
 
Tech Dump complements its commitment to responsible waste disposal with a mission to create jobs for “economically disadvantaged adults” who live in the area. The organization is an offshoot of the nonprofit Jobs Foundation, led by Probus Online founders George Lee and Tom McCullough. Lee and McCullough claim that for every 72,000 pounds of waste Tech Dump handles, the organization creates one job for one year.
 
Tech Dump finds its employees through partnerships with such Twin Cities nonprofits as Goodwill Easter Seals and Better Futures Enterprises, and referrals from current employees. “[The nonprofit partners] provide soft skills training and other pre-employment resources, then refer employees to us when we have openings,” says Amanda LaGrange, marketing director, Tech Dump.
 
She adds that,  “employees are very protective of our organization,” so they can recognize potential candidates who “really want to change and work toward a new future.”
 
Once hired, employees take on escalating responsibilities until they “graduate” from Tech Dump and find work at another employer. “We want to develop the skills that will make our staff the best employees in their next position,” LaGrange adds, such as “showing up to work on time each day, respecting managers and co-workers, accepting feedback and going the extra mile.”
 
Tech Dump handles old electronics in two ways: recycling and repurposing. For the former, Tech Dump employees take apart each piece of equipment, separate its electronic components and reduce them to the simplest state possible before shipping them off to a specialized facility for recycling. For the latter, Tech Dump workers repair or replace damaged or broken components and restore each piece of equipment to good working order.
 
With both processes, any stored data is destroyed (by force, not just erased) before usable components are harvested or recycled.
 
Tech Dump is cheap and inclusive, too. “We only charge for the items we have to pay to recycle, like CRT/tube TVs and monitors, rear projection TVs and fluorescent bulbs,” LaGrange says. Tech Dump is also “open to anyone—businesses and residents of any city, county or state.”
 
Ironically, Tech Dump started out as a furniture recycler. But an experimental “Tech Dump Day” in 2011 was wildly successful, turning Lee and McCullough on to local demand for responsible e-recycling. The pair exited the furniture recycling business in 2013 and set about building Tech Dump into a socially responsible powerhouse.
 
To sharpen its approach and develop new practices, Tech Dump regularly communicates with other recyclers, like Isadore Recycling in Los Angeles and Recycle Force in Indianapolis, which provide employment opportunities for teens and adults who have spent time in the criminal justice system.

Tech Dump is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., for waste quantities of any size. Tech Dump also operates trucks that travel off-site, by appointment, to pick up larger amounts of waste.
 

MiX previews 2015 TED Talk/Northern Spark-style festival of ideas

On Thursday October 2, Minneapolis Idea eXchange (MiX) holds its inaugural event at Minneapolis City Center, to offer “just a taste of what’s to come,” says MiX vice chair Mary Shaffer. The theme of the free event (register here), which runs from 5-8:30 p.m., is “the power of ideas.”

MiX will feature three prominent headliners with a local connection: Sandy Vargas, president and CEO of the 100-year-old Minneapolis Foundation; Barry Kudrowitz, a product design luminary at the University of Minnesota; and Nate Garvis, founder of Studio/E.
 
The event, which will immediately follow the Downtown Council’s MPLS 2025 Forum, will also feature a lively cocktail hour for about 500 attendees and a performance from internationally known piano virtuoso (and Twin Cities native) Nachito Herrera. “He’s the icing on the cake,” says Shaffer.
 
The October 2 event previews the first full Minneapolis Idea eXchange in Fall 2015. Planning for the three-day festival, modeled after similar “festivals of ideas” in Chicago, Aspen and Portland, is just beginning in earnest. About 20 downtown business leaders and residents—“from lawyers, to creatives, to accountants,” says Shaffer—are spearheading the effort, which is chaired by pastor Tim Hart-Andersen of downtown Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church and chartered by the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
 
Despite superficial similarities to other ideas festivals, MiX has some key differentiators. For starters, it’s free and open to the public, unlike more exclusive events. Shaffer hopes for as many as 10,000 attendees over three days next year.
 
MiX is also multi-locational and multi-format “in a Northern Spark meets TED Talks meets Minneapolis kind of way,” says Shaffer. Other ideas festivals tend to be concentrated in a single ballroom or convention center, reducing opportunities for attendees to interact with the host city.
 
On the interaction front, the festival’s timing should be a boon. “The early October dates give us the opportunity to celebrate the fall colors and highlight our spectacular landscape, while it's still feasible to do outdoor activities,” says Shaffer.
 
She adds that MiX hopes to coincide with the Twin Cities Marathon and attract as many of that event’s attendees—many of whom come from out of town—as possible. In fact, Shaffer’s team is actively working with Meet Minneapolis and Twin Cities in Motion to ensure that MiX and the marathon are complementary, not competitive.
 
Each annual MiX festival will have its own theme, typically an evocative verb like “intersect” (MPLS 2025’s theme) or “captivate.” The organizers encourage restaurants across the city to use these themes as inspiration for special dishes and drinks. By getting local businesses involved, visitors “can participate in an exciting activation of downtown,” says Shaffer.
 
To make next year’s festival as engaging as possible, MiX is actively courting corporate sponsors. Current sponsors include Ryan Companies, the Bush Foundation, This Is Folly! (the creative agency behind the MiX brand) and several private individuals on the MiX development team.
 
MiX is the last of 10 initiatives in the Downtown Council’s MPLS 2025 plan, though “that doesn’t mean we’re least important,” says Shaffer. Some of these goals are aspirational, like doubling downtown Minneapolis’ population within the next 10 years and turning the area around the new Vikings stadium into a “sports district.” Others are more concrete, like launching MiX and building Gateway Park.
 
 

ARENA DANCES collaborates with TC photographers on "Main St. Project"

Mathew Janczewski’s ARENA DANCES recently previewed its upcoming “Main St. Project” at a well-attended event in the patio space between the Marriott Courtyard Minneapolis Downtown and Town Hall Brewery. The event, called “Main St. Project: A Photography Unveiling,” included work from three Twin Cities’ photographers: Keri Pickett, Jack Armour and Wing Young Huie.
 
Their images of urban and small-town landscapes that have changed as a result of economic forces like suburbanization, big box retail and de-industrialization were projected on the brick exterior wall of the Southern Theater, where the multi-media performance “Main St. Project: The Evolution of Main Street: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” will run October 2-5. Performers from ARENA DANCES animated the imagery, which also included faces from Twin Cities' communities.
 
Following the show, some of the photographs were also projected onto the broad sides of buildings in the surrounding area, including the silos near the Guthrie Theater. Minneapolis Art on Wheels handled this aspect of the project.
 
The photographs will be incorporated into the October dance performance, as well. "When Mathew approached me to be a part of [his “Main St. Project”], I combed through my archives of photographs taken over 35 years," Huie says, "and selected 20 photos from about six different projects that I thought reflected a broad range of socio-economic and cultural realities in Minnesota."
 
According to ARENA DANCES, “Main St. Project” aims to answer a simple question: Does “Main St.” still exist? The dance performance incorporates “visceral and explosive movement [and] electro/techno/pop music, folk-inspired songs, and projections of filmed interviews with people from diverse communities and backgrounds” in pursuit of the answer. The photos add context to the performance by portraying historic and contemporary "Main Sts.," neighborhood intersections and city centers in various states of repair.
 
"All of the photographers and photography provide a great perspective on what 'Main St.' means," says Janczewski. "We're asking the question, 'How can we have a neighborhood-oriented future?'"
 
For Janczewski, the “Main St. Project” is personal. He grew up in Round Lake, Illinois, between Chicago and Milwaukee. As a child, he remembers a vibrant, community-focused town with a bustling downtown. Today, the town's economic engine has shifted to generic office parks and big box stores on its outskirts—a transformation repeated in countless other American communities.
 
Janczewski also wrestles with modern themes of alienation. Though he lives in a condo building, he says, there isn't always a sense of common purpose and community in his own neighborhood. And he's inspired by MIT professor Sherry Turkle's work on "technological isolation"—stories about how, despite being more connected than ever before, we feel depressed or inadequate when we interact with others online.
 
The project incorporates participants from ARENA DANCES’ Intergenerational Residency Program, an ongoing outreach initiative that facilitates dialogue between members of discrete, age-specific communities. The residency connected local middle- and high-school kids with residents of senior living facilities, who told stories of growing up in close-knit small towns and neighborhoods—quintessential "Main St." experiences.
 
The show includes a dynamic interplay of multimedia elements. A preview video on ARENA DANCES’ website shows unadorned performers in states of apparent bliss and others marked by frenetic bursts of energy against a backdrop of scattered newspapers, forlorn images and jarring bursts of light. The performing company is comprised of six local dancers: Elise Erickson, Sarah Baumert, Kimmie Allen, Timmy Wagner, Blake Nellis and Dustin Haug.
 

Spinning Stories connects bicyclists with TC storytellers

The third edition of Spinning Stories, a bi-monthly “place-based storytelling series” that transports cyclists to its stories’ settings, takes place Saturday, September 27. Departing from Northeast Minneapolis’ Recovery Bike Shop at noon, the free and open-to-the-public event features three yarns from three notable Twin Cities storytellers: Amy Salloway, Javier Morillo-Alicea and Heidi Arneson.
 
According to a release from Spinning Stories, the event covers up to 15 miles at a languid “muppet pace,” says organizer Brian Fanelli. “We’re only as fast as the slowest rider.”
 
The three storytellers all have deep connections and street cred in the Twin Cities. Salloway is the founder of Rock Star Storytellers and Awkward Moments Productions, among other groups, and has previously won the SlamMN! and Moth slam events. Morillo-Alicea, who is president of the Service Employees International Union’s Local 26 by day, has won two Moth awards. Arneson produces one-woman plays that explore life in the Upper Midwest, and has garnered recognition from TC Daily Planet and members of the local comedy and storytelling communities.
 
Fanelli is keeping the subject matter of the stories close to the vest, but he will say that one features a particular parking space on University Avenue—a seemingly mundane setting for performance art. “It all comes back to this parking space,” he says. “Stories happen everywhere, even in the negative space of a parking lot.”
 
Previous editions of Spinning Stores have attracted about 40 people. The initiative got a big boost in July, with its participation in the city-wide, week-long Pedalopolis event.
 
Ongoing support from Recovery Bike Shop and Re-Cycle (Fanelli jointly serves as Community Involvement Coordinator) has been “hugely helpful” as well. He credits both shops’ broad customer base— “beginner cyclists, veteran cyclists and everyone in between, including storytellers who don’t think of themselves as bikers at all”—with attracting diverse participants to Spinning Stories.
 
He notes that “bike shops supporting the arts is becoming a thing,” citing this year’s Artcrank series and ongoing exhibitions at One on One Bicycle Studio in the North Loop.
 
Recovery and Re-Cycle have also provided mechanical support for Spinning Stories’ riders and unspecified “in-kind payments” to storytellers, says Fanelli, and will do so for this event as well. “Their support means I'm able to put more time into the project than I might otherwise be able to.”
 
Fanelli also credits participating storytellers with generating enthusiasm for Spinning Stories. “The community of storytellers in the Twin Cities is this beautiful, thriving ball of energy,” says Fanelli, “and it's really a wonderful thing to be so welcomed by that community.”
 
For all three events, he has engaged with “local storytelling producers” to find stories (and tellers). Salloway has been “overwhelmingly helpful with connecting to other storytellers,” says Fanelli. Previous Spinning Stories storytellers have included local luminaries like Paul Canada Nemeth, Taylor Tower and Tristan Jimerson.
 
Saturday’s edition will likely be the last outdoor Spinning Stories event of the year, but Fanelli is slated to teach a month-long storytelling unit in an ESL classroom at Roosevelt High School this winter. “No one is doing anything like this,” he says, “and I'm incredibly excited to bring story arts into the Minneapolis Public Schools.”
 
Outdoor rides will begin again in the spring, though Fanelli hasn’t yet set any dates. He does plan to incorporate the “youth voices” from his stint at Roosevelt into next year’s programming, though.
 

MN Social Impact Center to connect change agents

The Minnesota Social Impact Center (MSIC) will launch in early 2015 spearheaded by Katie Kalkman, Terri Barreiro and Beth Parkhill—three Twin Cities’ residents with deep roots in the local business community. MSIC aims to build on the momentum generated by other recent social innovation startups in the area, including Social Innovation Lab, Social Enterprise Alliance Twin Cities and GlobalShapers Hub.
 
According to MSIC's launch-event manager, Michael Bischoff, the organization’s goal is simple: Connecting “change agents” from the nonprofit, business, government and philanthropy sectors to improve citizen engagement, access to education and the arts, and conditions for Twin Cities residents of all ages.
 
Despite a dense concentration of such change agents right here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Bischoff laments, there’s no single framework for integrating their activities, or even ensuring that they’re on the same page. “Our goal is to foster real world solutions to address some of the greatest challenges facing our communities and the world,” Barreiro explains. “Pick any major issue and you’ll find groups convening in our region, seeking new answers that will achieve better results than what we have today.”
 
On November 12, MSIC hosts a “pre-launch” event (6:30 pm to 9:30 pm in Macalester College’s Kagin Ballroom). Macalester College is “a natural choice for the pre-launch event,” says Bischoff, “because social innovators have been gathering there for several years as part of the Bush Foundation’s Social Innovation Lab.”
 
The event will include announcements about specific programming initiatives and membership options, as well as material on “more than 30 stories of transformative social impact in Minnesota,” says Bischoff.
 
There is a sliding-scale fee for the event registration, but for $275 attendees can distinguish themselves as “founding members.” Although many details still have to be worked out, membership at MSIC would include access to a co-working space similar to those currently administered by Joule and CoCo. Other levels of membership would include access to MSIC’s facilities, staff, collaborators and other members—all offering a wealth of social enterprise expertise—without physical co-working space.
 
According to Bischoff, MSIC’s programming will initially utilize several spaces around the Twin Cities, but the organizations is in the market for a permanent location. Board members Kalkman and Tim Reardon are heading up the search, weighing site options in downtown St. Paul, along the Green Line and at unspecified locations in Minneapolis.
 
“We know innovators want us to get this going now,” says Reardon. “We need a minimum of 5,000 square feet to start. Long-term, we’ll need two to three times the space to build the right environment for this dynamic, interactive community.” Reardon and Kalkman hope to find a space, at least on a temporary basis, for the center’s anticipated launch.
 

MN Cup: "American Idol" for entrepreneurs

On September 10, the Minnesota Cup announced its best “breakthrough idea” of 2014: 75F, a Mankato-based technology company that makes efficient, cost-effective HVAC sensors. The company, which emerged as the winner of MN Cup’s Energy/Clean Tech/Water category division before emerging as the grand prize winner, took home a total of $105,000 in prize money and funding commitments.
 
But it wasn’t the only company that won big in this year’s MN Cup. Trovita Health Science, a startup based in Minneapolis' North Loop that makes a meal replacement drink called ENU, took home a $30,000 prize as the winner of the Food/Ag/Beverage category. YOXO, a St. Paul toymaker that uses simple cardboard connectors in innovative ways, also took earned $30,000 for topping the General/Miscellaneous category. Four other category winners won between $20,000 and $30,000 in prize money, and earned immeasurable visibility for their ideas.
 
All told, more than 1,300 Minnesota entrepreneurs and startups participated in this year’s MN Cup—a record turnout. At least 50 percent of all entrants came from the Twin Cities. In a press release, MN Cup co-founder Scott Litman described the field as “the most competitive yet” in the competition’s decade-long history.
 
Aside from 75F and the rest of MN Cup’s category winners, the September 10 event highlighted the achievements of local entrepreneurs and thought leaders who support the Twin Cities’ growing startup scene. After raising more than $10,000 via Kickstarter, Twin Cities Mobile Market secured a $1,000 cash prize for its elevator pitch at this year’s Minnesota Cup. TCMM is a “grocery store on wheels” that brings fresh, affordable produce and other nutritious foods to Minneapolis-St. Paul neighborhoods that lack easy access to full-service grocery stores.
 
MN Cup also recognized Carlson School of Business grad Steve Eilertson as its “2014 Entrepreneur of the Year” for his role as president of locally based Grain Millers, Inc. And thanks to a partnership with the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, women were much more visible at this year’s event. Published figures indicate that more than one-third of all entries came from women-led teams. Nearly half of all entries had at least one female participant.
 
For entrepreneurs who missed the May filing deadline for MN Cup 2014, next year brings a new opportunity. In a September 12 interview on Minnesota Public Radio, Litman had some sage advice for those who would participate. “It might seem un-Minnesotan,” he said, “but successful entrepreneurs” have to be unabashed about self-promotion and arguing for their vision.
 
He sees two big reasons why enthusiastic entrepreneurs fail. First, they don’t ask for enough money. It’s critical to pin down the cost of developing, marketing and scaling an idea, and many startup owners underestimate the costs they’ll incur before revenues start coming in. By holding out the prospect of five-figure prizes for winning entrants, and by connecting all entrants with mentors and investors who can inject additional capital into worthy startups, MN Cup helps bridge this financing gap.
 
Just as important, entrepreneurs must surround themselves with the right people, who may be more important than the idea itself. “A great idea in the hands of a mediocre team may not work,” said Litman. He argues that MN Cup is designed to help entrepreneurs self-select: Those who thrive on high-stakes pitches and meticulous business plan development leave the process much stronger, while those who flounder realize that they may need help turning their vision into a reality.
 
“It’s like American Idol,” said Litman. “Lots of people can sing well,” but not everyone’s voice can fill Xcel Energy Center.
 

GetKnit boosts experiences with local businesses

Minneapolis event-organizing company, GetKnit Events, is changing the way Twin Cities residents experience local businesses and attractions. On September 13, it pulled off its most ambitious and far-reaching experience yet: Rails & Ales, a self-guided tour of the breweries and brewpubs along the Green Line, from Target Field to Union Depot. Hundreds of participants sipped discounted brews, previewed special cask releases and rubbed shoulders with some of the most innovative brewers in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
 
For GetKnit founder Matt Plank, connecting Twin Citians with local business owners—preferably on a permanent basis—is the whole point. He and the company’s “core team” of paid employees, most of whom knew each other socially before GetKnit’s founding, are constantly looking for “ways that we [can pursue] our goal of community engagement while supporting local businesses in and around Minnesota,” says Plank.
 
Tickets for Rails & Ales sold out quickly, but a lucky group of several hundred attendees got their run of three establishments in Minneapolis and five in St. Paul, all within walking distance of the Green Line. (Though pedicabs were out in force to transport customers between stations and breweries, especially at farther-flung spots like Urban Growler and Bang Brewing.) Guests checked in at the Target Field, Stadium Village or Union Depot stations, where GetKnit staffers and volunteers handed out T-shirts, drink tokens (two per person, each good for a free pint) and “event passports” that listed participating breweries, their specials and Rails & Ales social media contests.
 
Other locally owned businesses got in on the act too. The Dubliner Pub, between the popular Raymond Avenue (Urban Growler and Bang) and Fairview Avenue (Burning Brothers) stops, ran all-day drink and food specials. Food trucks like Peeps Hot Box posted up outside participating breweries, tempting customers with daily specials. And even independent vendors, like the woman selling vintage glassware outside Bang, profited from the early-afternoon crush on a beautiful Saturday.
 
Meanwhile, the brewers themselves relished the chance to mingle with enthusiastic craft beer fans. At the Mill District’s Day Block Brewing, for instance, the head brewer handed out free pints to anyone who correctly guessed the varieties of hops laid out on the table before him. Rails & Ales wrapped up at 6 p.m., but brewery owners have to be hoping that the day provided a permanent boost in visibility.
 
GetKnit draws inspiration from other tour companies and event organizers, says Plank, but with a twist. Aside from the focus on locally owned business, which is lacking in some areas of the industry, the company aims for “wildly original” events “that our participants likely couldn’t do anywhere but through GetKnit.” You might be able to spend an entire Saturday riding the Green Line between breweries, in other words, but you probably wouldn’t be able to mingle with head brewers, try specially brewed cask releases or enter social media contests for free events and swag.
 
And unlike more bare-bones tour and event operators, GetKnit organizes well-staffed, all-inclusive events that “allow participants to turn off their brains for a day...and not worry about anything,” says Plank. For Rails & Ales, GetKnit had at least one representative at every participating brewery, in addition to staff at check-in stations. The goal was to facilitate “safe and responsible” enjoyment while showcase the ease of using local transit and “how much is accessible right off of its grid.”
 
GetKnit also designs bespoke events for private groups. Plank cites a recent example in which a group of Latin American businesspeople came to the Twin Cities for meetings and sightseeing. Many had never been to Minnesota, so Plank’s team set about creating the "quintessential Minnesotan experience” that included a horse-drawn carriage tour of St. Anthony Main, a brewery tour and tasting, a hands-on cooking class featuring Jucy Lucy burgers and even private curling lessons.
 
For now, GetKnit organizes events in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. But Plank doesn’t rule out the possibility of expanding the model to other regions, possibly with the help of knowledgeable locals. A recent St. Croix Valley winery tour did cross the Wisconsin border, and “we are playing with other events that might do more extensive tours of other areas in our neighbor to the east,” he says.
 

Booming startup scene active in TC Startup Week

This week (through September 14), the best and brightest in the Twin Cities’ booming startup scene will come out to play for Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW). Sponsored by prominent, entrepreneur-focused local organizations like Beta.mn, Tech[dot]MN, Minnesota Cup and Minne*, the event features free coworking at CoCo, Minnesota Cup’s final awards reception and the ever-popular Bootstrappers Breakfast get-together.
 
“Twin Cities Startup Week is inspired by the growth of Minnesota’s tech startup community,” says Morgan Weber of Minnesota Cup. “Our goal is to unite the makers, doers and creators in the local startup scene.”
 
TCSW events will take place throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, with many events finding homes at tech-friendly spaces like CoCo and Maker’s Cafe. They’ll cater to businesses at every stage of the startup process, too.
 
For instance, on Tuesday, Beta.mn 1.5 invited early-stage startups to demo their ideas, dispensing with formal pitches. It was “a lot like a science fair, but with more booze,” according to the event page. The Minnesota Cup reception on Wed evening caters to startups that are further along, awarding hefty prizes to entrepreneurs and teams with highly promising products. Rejection Therapy, which teaches participants to deal with professional rejection, offers character-building guidance that entrepreneurs can use throughout their careers.
 
While most TCSW events cater to local startups, tech entrepreneurs and investors will be on hand as well. Showcase events like Twin Cities Startup Crawl, which will tour a handful of downtown Minneapolis startups, and MinneDemo, a formal pitch event, are particularly attractive to outsiders (and local investors) looking for the next big thing.
 
Twin Cities Startup Week isn’t a first-of-its-kind event. Startup Weeks abound in other parts of the country: In May, Boulder hosted its own Startup Week, sponsored by more than a dozen local tech companies and innovation nonprofits; in June, Maine Startup & Create Week hosted an eight-day conference that showcased that state’s technology sector for the benefit of outside investors. Startup Weekend, a Seattle-based, nonprofit offshoot of Google for Entrepreneurs, hosts frequent local events at which entrepreneurs collaborate to launch a startup within 54 hours.
 
TCSW, however, is rooted in the unique, collaborative culture of the Twin Cities. Neither the Boulder nor Maine events included free coworking sessions or anything like Minnesota Cup, for example.
 

Rail~volution showcases MSP's transit-oriented development

Next week, September 21-24, the Twin Cities will host Rail~volution 2014, one of the country’s most visible transit and development conferences.
 
Founded in 1989 in Portland, Oregon, as a local advocacy organization, Rail~volution expanded in 1995 into an annual conference that brings the country’s top transit and design thinkers together each year. According to the Rail~Volution website, the "conference is for passionate practitioners — people from all perspectives who believe strongly in the role of land use and transit as equal partners in the quest for greater livability and greater communities."
 
Rail~volution 2014 will showcase the vibrancy of the Twin Cities, thanks to two dozen “mobile workshops” spread across four days. The a la carte events include “Grow, Sell and Eat Local,” which will take attendees to Frogtown Farm, Urban Organics and the St. Paul Farmers Market. “BOD: Bike-Oriented Development + The Midtown Greenway” shows off “the nation’s best urban bike trail” on a 12-mile bike tour.
 
Other noteworthy events include a “cultural journey” centered on the Franklin Street LRT station, a tour through the Warehouse District/North Loop, and a “history and vision” workshop about the Northstar commuter rail line. Other workshops and lectures will take place at the Hyatt Regency near the Minneapolis Convention Center.
 
Another highlight of Rail~volution 2014 is a trade show that features more than a dozen rail-related exhibitors, from multinational rolling stock manufacturers like Siemens to smaller firms like Oregon-based United Streetcar and Northwest Signal. Local sponsors include Kimley Horn, a St. Paul-based design firm, as well as the Central Corridor Funders’ Collaborative, a consortium of organizations dedicated to fostering transit-oriented development and sustainable growth along the Green Line.
 
Local conference attendees will have plenty of opportunities to network with national players in the transit and development business. Before the conference officially kicks off, the Baseball + Hotdogs + Local Brews event combines a Twins game with a tour of the newly refurbished Ford Center, in the Warehouse District, and free-flowing Twin Cities beers. For non-baseball fans, a paddleboat cruise shows off the cities’ skylines and natural beauty from the Mississippi River. Those who want to pair art and transit can tour the Loring Greenway and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which precedes a Saturday-evening show at the Jungle Theater.
 
The location of its signature conference varies each year, but Rail~volution has plans to implement year-round programming that “fufill[s] our mission and vision that America's cities and regions be transformed into livable places—healthy, economically vibrant, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable,” according to its website.
 
 

Man Cave Meats introduces craft brats and burgers

Man Cave Meats, a rapidly growing Minneapolis startup founded by a recent University of Minnesota grad and his brother, aims to do for burgers and brats what Summit and Surly have done for beer. The company sells “craft meat” processed and prepared in small batches from high-quality regional (the pork comes from Iowa and the beef from Nebraska) ingredients.
 
From its first 20 grocery store accounts in November 2013, Man Cave has grown to around 200 individual accounts, mostly in the Twin Cities, greater Minnesota and North Dakota. Locally, the company deals with homegrown grocers like Lunds, Byerly's, Kowalski’s and some Cub Foods outlets. In its ever-popular beer brats, Man Cave incorporates a hyper-local ingredient: Summit Pilsener.
 
“You can smell the beer when you cook our beer brats,” says Man Cave marketing coordinator Jessica Hughes.
 
Man Cave’s goal, Hughes says, is simple: to produce flavorful, high-quality and responsibly sourced meat products that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Everything but the initial butchering and processing, which needs to be done at a specialized plant, happens at Man Cave’s Twin Cities production facility. Unlike larger producers, Man Cave exclusively uses pork shoulder in its brats. Pork shoulder is a relatively lean (80/20) and flavorful cut of meat, and a far cry from the fatty cuts used in mass-produced sausages.
 
Man Cave also hires locally. About half the full-time staff hails from the U of M or the University of St. Thomas, and most referrals come via word of mouth. During the warm season, when Man Cave’s business picks up, the company retains 20 to 30 part-timers to do grocery store demos and to staff booths at outdoor events, like minor league baseball games, 5K runs and street festivals.
 
“We’re taking a page right out of the craft beer playbook,” says Hughes, citing local beer festivals like the Summer Beer Dabbler as inspiration for Man Cave’s outdoorsy promotional events. Hands-on demonstrations, preferably outdoors, are in the company’s DNA: As a U of M sophomore, co-founder Nick Beste promoted the nascent Man Cave with backyard grilling events at which guests (and passers-by) sampled brats and socialized.
 
Early on, the Bestes also secured a stall at the Mill City Farmers Market. “That really got us off the ground,” says Hughes. Until last year, the bulk of the company’s sales came from on-site purchases at the farmers market and the occasional backyard party.
 
But Man Cave has outgrown its roots. Its exponential growth in the past year is exciting for the company’s nine or 10 full-timers, some of whom started out as part-timers. Finding new markets is exciting as well: Thanks to its growing, affluent and heavily male population, Williston, North Dakota—the epicenter of the shale oil boom—is Man Cave’s most promising market outside of the Twin Cities, says Hughes.
 
Challenges do remain. With a tight focus on Angus burgers and flavored brats, Man Cave’s product line is heavy on the grillables. But the company has grown to the point where it needs a strong revenue stream all year long, says Hughes, so the team has redoubled its efforts to identify “winter-friendly craft meats.” One such item is Man Cave’s mini-brats. “They’re about a quarter the size of our regular brats and come in packs of 15,” says Hughes, “so they’re perfect for pigs-in-blankets and can easily be cooked in any oven.”
 
The company is also looking to introduce a new line of bacon. “It can’t just be your standard slice of bacon,” says Hughes. “It needs to uphold that craft theme.” Further down the road, locally sourced chicken and turkey sausage could make their way into the inventory, especially in health-conscious markets like Minneapolis and St. Paul. And the company is focused on fleshing out its online store as well.
 
But for now, Hughes and the Man Cave team are just happy to be part of an ambitious startup that’s putting the Twin Cities back on the butchery map—and, hopefully, making it possible for people everywhere to pair their craft beer with a craft brat or burger.
 

River City Revue highlights the good, the bad, the ugly along the Mississippi

The River City Revue (RCR) is “an annual summer series of river tours throughout the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area organized by Works Progress Studio, the Mississippi River Fund and the National Park Service,” according to its website. And RCR isn’t shy about highlighting the dark side of living in a river city.
 
After an August 22nd canoe trip between Hastings, Minnesota and Prescott, Wisconsin, the series returns to the Padelford Riverboat in St. Paul for “Filth on the River” on September 10. That program features “performances, participatory games, and short illustrated talks on some of the filthy, debaucherous, and unseemly aspects of life on the Mississippi.”
 
The overall goal of the series is to showcase the Mississippi River’s impacts on the Twin Cities’ economy, culture and natural environment. “To me, living in a river city means thinking about our relationship to water,” says Shanai Matteson, co-director of Works Progress Studio. “Water connects and sustains us,” adds Colin Kloecker, the studio’s other co-director.
 
According to Matteson, River City Revue began in 2011 as a public art collaboration with Northern Spark. Initially planned as a one-off, the initiative was so successful that Matteson and Kloecker pushed to turn it into an annual series. As the only National Park Service-protected waterway in a major urban area, the Twin Cities’ Mississippi River frontage is a unique asset that RCR’s collaborators believe is worth celebrating.
 
Other events have included “Purity on the River,” a get-together on the Jonathan Padelford Riverboat that featured speeches, performances and material showcases from local artists and thinkers.
 
The event was a mishmash of water-themed content, including a “water bar” with flights of local tap water and “collaborative panoramic river drawing” with the MAKESH!T Collective. Other highlights included a water-themed photo showcase, a poetry reading by Mary Austin Speaker, and a discussion of “water purity and beer brewing” – always an interesting topic – that included local author Doug Hoverson and representatives from Boom Island, Bang Brewing and Indeed Brewing Company.
 
“Purity on the River” was the third of five River City Revue events and one of two riverboat cruises in the series. The first RCR event, held at the Science Museum of Minnesota on June 27, featured riverfront walking tours (which had to be modified slightly due to high water levels) and lectures from National Park Service employees and local historians.
 
The second, which launched from the Soap Factory on July 23, explored the Twin Cities’ best “fishin’ holes” and included input from local fishing experts, chefs and naturalists.
 
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