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Regionalism : Innovation + Job News

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Make It. MSP: New initiative designed to attract, retain talent

MSP’s economic vitality is a perennial source of envy for other metro regions. Some of the country’s most recognizable brands live here, unemployment is chronically low, and local educational institutions do an excellent job of preparing young people for the workforce.
But MSP can’t rest on its laurels. The competitive landscape is changing faster than many realize.
“The global economy is catching up with us,” says Peter Frosch, vice president of strategic partnerships at the MSP Regional Economic Development Partnership (GREATER MSP). “As other regions try to be more like MSP, our competitive advantage is waning.”
Meanwhile, the region’s labor force growth rate is slowing as employer demand for high-skill positions takes off. Even if every current MSP high school student graduated from two- or four-year college on time, the region’s homegrown talent pipeline wouldn’t be sufficient to fill the growing “skills gap.” To keep pace, MSP needs to pull talent from other U.S. and international regions. Problem is, few outsiders know much about MSP beyond “It’s cold, right?” And they certainly don’t know whether they’d want to move here, should the opportunity present itself. (“It’s cold, right?”)
That’s where Make It. MSP. comes in. Make It. MSP. is “an initiative designed to attract and retain talent” in MSP, while “[seeking] to improve the transplant experience for new residents as they put down roots in the community,” according to a GREATER MSP release.
Make It. MSP.’s most visible component is an interactive online portal that leans heavily on user-generated input. The Q&A page, for instance, is a clickable panel of open-ended questions about life in MSP: favorite month to be outside, what’s great about your neighborhood, what makes MSP different than other places, and so on.
“Authentic stories, told by real people, are critical to Make It. MSP.’s success,” says Frosch.
Make It. MSP. also features an in-depth, internally generated rundown of MSP, geared toward individuals and employers. Topics include arts and culture, cities/neighborhoods, outdoor activities, cost of living and weather.
Finally, Make It. MSP. has an impressive, MSP-centric careers portal, complete with tens of thousands of job postings from regional employers — a one-stop resource for current residents looking to change jobs (key to retention) and recently relocated “trailing spouses” who need jobs of their own.
According to Frosch, Make It. MSP.’s scope is unprecedented both here and around the country. Though Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit all have similar attraction strategies, “[Make It. MSP.] is a next-generation approach to attraction and retention that functions as a comprehensive resource for workers and families,” not just a glorified visitors’ bureau.
Formally announced October 13, Make It. MSP. is the fruit of a two-year collaboration between upward of 80 MSP employers (including blue chip companies like St. Paul-based Ecolab), public institutions (including the University of Minnesota) and a host of nonprofit organizations, collectively dubbed the “makers’ network.” Makers’ network participants agreed on five goals to focus and shape Make It. MSP.:
  • Improve social inclusion, particularly for newcomers, people of color and “rising leaders” (Frosch: “We don’t want people to struggle to fit in or struggle to find passion for months or years here”)
  • Support innovative talent, including traditional entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, creatives and others
  • Connect talent to community
  • Connect talent to employers
  • Close near-term talent gaps, particularly in technology and engineering disciplines
 And Make It. MSP. isn’t just for people and employers who’ve never set foot in MSP. It’s also about keeping members of MSP’s diaspora — people who’ve moved away for school or jobs — informed and engaged around their home region. Diasporans who’ve stayed in touch are more likely to remember MSP fondly, the thinking goes, and jump at opportunities to return.
“Make It. MSP’s message [for wayard Minnesotans] is simple,” says Frosch. “We say, ‘This is home. If you leave, it’s always okay to come back.’”

Tangletown/Wise Acre's farm-to-table growth

The calendar still says winter, but Tangletown Gardens is ramping up hiring, and investing in initiatives to make the popular South Minneapolis business “even better at what we grow, what we produce, and what we create for our customers and the communities we serve,” says co-founder and principal Scott Endres.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Endres and co-owner Dean Engelmann will tear up a playbook that has worked for more than a decade.
“The growth of our business has always been organic,” Endres says. “We make sure things as are as good as they can be before taking the next step. Right now, we feel there is room to grow and refine all aspects of our business without having to take on new ventures.”
Tangletown Gardens’ current ventures keep Endres, Engelmann and their staffers plenty busy. The flagship garden center at 54th & Nicollet supports a flourishing garden design and consulting business that counts some of the Twin Cities’ most notable companies, nonprofits, government organizations and individuals as clients. Off the top of his head, Endres lists the Museum of Russian Art, the Minneapolis Park Board, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the U of M’s Horticulture Department as “garden partners.”
Endres and Engelmann met while enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s horticulture program. They worked in the landscape design business before setting out as partners and founding Tangletown. Careful product selection and innovative cultivation strategies play a role in their success, along with their backgrounds. According to Endres, Tangletown has “thousands of...perennial, annual and vegetable varieties,” along with “the most diverse group of unusual and hard-to-find woody plants in the Upper Midwest.”
In addition to the garden center, Endres and Engelmann run Wise Acre Eatery, a bastion of the Twin Cities’ farm-to-fork movement, and a 100-acre farm in Plato, which supplies Wise Acre and a flourishing CSA. According to Wise Acre’s website, “80 to 90 percent of what we serve is grown sustainably” on the Plato farm.
Since opening in 2012, Wise Acre has been joined by a host of farm-centric restaurants across town. But it remains unique. “Unlike the owners of any other restaurant we know of, we are the folks sowing the seeds, nurturing plants, and tending the animals in the morning, then delivering the harvest to our restaurant’s kitchen in the afternoon,” says Endres.
Endres and Engelmann grow produce year-round in state-of-the-art greenhouses to maintain their locally grown supply. The owners also keep Scottish Highland cattle, two heritage pork breeds and free-range poultry on the farm — a self-contained food ecosystem that relies on “biology, not toxic chemicals,” says Endres.
“Healthy soil creates healthy food and gardens, which ultimately create healthy people,” adds Engelmann.
This philosophy reflects Endres’ and Engelmann’s upbringing. Though horticulturalists by training, both grew up on small working farms in the family for generations. “Our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers knew the way they treated their land would shape its future,” says Endres. “We farm today in much the same way as the farms we grew up on.”
Current Tangletown Job Listings in Minneapolis
  1. Garden Designer
  2. Container Designer
  3. Gardener
  4. Seasonal Garden Center Associate
  5. Seasonal Landscape Team Member


MNvest and MN-SBIR to reduce funding barriers for startups

Two new initiatives, MNvest and MN-SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research), are aiming to give Minneapolis-St. Paul startups and entrepreneurs a competitive leg up. Both initiatives lessen or remove existing barriers to funding for early-stage companies.
MNvest is a legislative proposal that could pave the way for “equity crowdfunding,” which would remove some red tape from existing securities law and allow young companies to raise up to $5 million from members of the public in any 12-month period.
Currently, Minnesota startups can raise funds in three ways, none of them ideal. First, they can register with state and federal securities regulators, a costly and stringent process that’s unrealistic for capital-starved entrepreneurs. Second, they can limit advertised investment offerings to accredited investors — roughly the state’s wealthiest one percent.
Third and most common: They can make a private, unadvertised offering, sometimes known as a “friends and family round,” but can’t solicit on the Internet or through other public means. In all cases, startups must either shoulder unreasonable costs or remain unable to accept investments from most members of the public.
MNvest’s value proposition appeals to lawmakers and constituents alike, says Winthrop & Weinstine attorney and MNvest proponent Ryan Schildkraut. “The question is simple: Why should only the wealthiest people be able to use the Internet to invest in businesses with compelling ideas?”
MN-SBIR is a conduit to the federal SBIR program, which offers access to more than $2 billion in business grants from nearly a dozen federal agencies. Individual grants range from less than $150,000 for Phase I (early stage) companies to as much as $4 million for Phase III (established, generally medium-sized) companies.
MN-SBIR provides technical support, proposal writing assistance, cost analyses, commercialization planning and other services for startups and small-to-medium-sized businesses seeking grant money. The Minnesota program also offers regular workshops, including a February 24 proposal-writing workshop and a March 26 overview workshop, for participants and interested parties.
MN-SBIR is “often the only source of capital available” to startups and small companies perceived as high-risk by traditional lenders, including venture capitalists, says MN-SBIR director Pat Dillon.
The program also pumps federal dollars into Minnesota’s economy. “We send so much of our [tax] money to Washington,” says Dillon. “This is one way for us to get some of it back.”
But both MN-SBIR and MNvest face challenges.
As a legislative proposal, MNvest is currently working its way through committees at the Capitol. Though the bill has bipartisan support and “has not run into major opposition from any group,” the legislative process offers no guarantees, says Zachary Robins, Schildkraut’s Winthrop colleague and fellow MNvest proponent. House and Senate versions of the bill still need to be reconciled into a single draft, a process that can take time. A full vote could happen anytime between now and late spring, with the governor’s signature required for MNvest to become law.
“We’re cautiously optimistic about MNvest’s prospects,” says Robins.
MN-SBIR faces a different set of obstacles. The state government recently restarted the program after a decade-long hiatus. MN-SBIR remains under-resourced due to its newness and funding realities, with Dillon and a small team of consultants sharing responsibilities.
“I’m a hard worker, but I’m not Superwoman,” Dillon laughs.
The continued economic vitality of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Minnesota more broadly, could hinge on the success of MNvest and MN-SBIR. Both find the state in the unfamiliar position of playing catch-up with others, including some of its closest neighbors.
MNvest, for instance, is similar to bills already passed in Wisconsin, Indiana and other midwestern states. Last year, Schildkraut found out about Craftfund, a Milwaukee-based brewery crowdfunding platform that takes advantage of the Wisconsin law.
“I assumed we had something similar on the books in Minnesota,” he recalls. When subsequent research failed to turn up anything similar, he and Robins set MNvest in motion.
“We’re just young and energetic enough to try to get a law passed,” says Schildkraut.
Meanwhile, MN-SBIR aims to dramatically increase Minnesota’s share of the federal SBIR pie. Local companies account for just $30 million of the $2.3 billion total, a disproportionately small share relative to population. California and Massachusetts alone account for nearly 50 percent of the available amount.
“We could do a whole lot better given our size and existing entrepreneurial energy,” says Dillon.

SVL helping to transform MSP into national tech hub

Startup Venture Loft (SVL) tripled its physical footprint with a move into an 8,500 square foot space in the North Loop’s McKesson Building last September. The new digs were the final piece of a year-long rebranding and restructuring process that transformed SVL from Healthcare.mn, a healthcare-focused business accelerator, into a coworking hub and incubator for “investable startup companies with high growth potential,” says owner and executive director Peter Kane.
“Expanding to an 8,500 square foot space grabs people’s attention and lets them know we’re serious,” says Kane, who wants to “make the Twin Cities the best place in the country to launch a startup.”
Thirty early stage companies mostly in the healthcare and technology sectors now rent space at SVL, up from just five in November 2013. Healthcare.mn remains an SVL tenant.
Turning the Twin Cities into a tech hub requires a self-contained ecosystem of entrepreneurs and talented knowledge workers, plus venture capital funds, angel investors and service providers such as intellectual property lawyers and marketing specialists, who support and promote entrepreneurial efforts.
Kane cites Chicago—a city not known for its technology industry until recently—as a model for the Twin Cities. 1871 is the beating heart of Chicago’s tech startup scene, with tenants ranging from idea-stage one-person companies to established VC funds that funnel capital into proven technology concepts. Decision-makers from big technology and healthcare firms, including Google, either rent space in or routinely visit 1871, providing startups with access to larger, more lucrative markets and creating buyout opportunities—known as “exit strategies” in startup parlance.
SVL also aims to bridge a generational and cultural gap that hinders local startups’ growth. Many Twin Cities entrepreneurs, especially in tech and healthcare, are Millennials with different values and business strategies than the older, more experienced executives and investors they typically pitch ideas to. Kane’s two previous startups both failed in part, he says, because established company executives didn’t take him seriously.
“Our culture is somewhat risk averse, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” says Kane. “But [decision makers] want to know that you’ve been vetted, and that’s a tough sell when you’re a 20-something entrepreneur and everyone across the table from you is a baby boomer Pharm.D.”
“The response is often ‘who are you’ and ‘why should I trust that you know what you’re doing,’” he adds. “There isn’t the sort of informal vetting network that exists in more established tech centers like Silicon Valley and New York.” Kane wants SVL to be a core node in that network. With the support of a competent, technology-driven community, entrepreneurs associated with SVL would have a de facto stamp of approval from investors and corporate decision makers.
Bringing entrepreneurs and business leaders together also requires a mature digital media sector that trumpets the Twin Cities’ startup scene as worth of national and international attention—and investment.
“We’re not always great at telling our story [in the Twin Cities],” says Kane. “We need a beacon—the media—that churns out stories with national appeal and raises the local startup scene’s profile to where it needs to be.”

Midwest Innovation Summit showcases startups focusing on sustainable technologies

Hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors and corporate executives gathered at the Depot Hotel in Minneapolis on October 27 and 28 for the Midwest Innovation Summit, an annual gathering that showcases what’s next in technology and manufacturing across the region. About 75 exhibitors were on hand, including promising Minnesota startups like 75F—winner of this year’s Minnesota Cup— and Water Meter Solutions, which operates out of CoCo Minneapolis.
“The Midwest Innovation Summit is about attracting entrepreneurs and business leaders from all across the region to display any solution that uses natural resources more efficiently,” says Justin Kaster, executive director of Midwest CleanTech Open, the summit’s sponsor. “Many of the exhibitors here are committed to sustainability for ethical and environmental reasons, but [Midwest Innovation Summit] really shows that clean technology is a great business opportunity as well.”
In innovation capitals like the Twin Cities, Kaster adds, entrepreneurs and investors have “started to respond to that value proposition” over the last decade. “Everyone realizes that clean technology is a win-win situation now,” he says. “You don’t have work overtime to convince people of that anymore.”
Several Twin Cities companies have clearly bought in. Water Meter Solutions makes two water-saving technologies. Floo-id is a “smart toilet monitoring device” that allows property managers and homeowners to monitor their toilets’ water use in real time, quickly identifying leaks and other issues that could affect their water bills. Floo-id is powered by flowing water, making it energy neutral. Water Meter Solutions’ other technology, H2O Pro, performs a similar function for entire buildings’ water systems, offering value to multi-unit landlords.
Nearby, Minneapolis-based Irri-Green’s exhibitor booth showed off the Genius irrigation system, a patent pending lawn-watering setup that analyzes landscape contours and other factors to deliver water as efficiently as possible. Each Genius irrigator’s range overlaps precisely with that of the next, “eliminating the wasteful, overlapping arcs of water that conventional irrigation systems” produce, says Irri-Green.
Garden Fresh Farms, a Minneapolis startup and 2013 Minnesota Cup division winner with an aquaculture facility in the city, was on hand as well. The fish in the company’s growing tanks continuously fertilize the plants suspended above them, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that produces plant and animal products for harvest.
These local companies are part of what Kaster calls “a regional ecosystem of innovation.” He urges entrepreneurs, investors, nonprofits and government entities across the Midwest to “think bigger than the city or county level” and “move past the state versus state competition” that can hinder the exchange of ideas, people and investment. The Northeast, Kaster says, is a great example of a region where innovators have banded together to create sustainable, big-picture solutions, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
“We have a tremendous amount of intellectual and creative capital here in the Twin Cities,” he says. “Events like the Midwest Innovation Summit are conduits for ideas and investment from nearby areas” that ultimately raise the profiles and prospects of local innovators.

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.

Minnesota companies account for quarter of Cleantech Open regional semi-finalists

Minnesota companies account for one-fourth of the start-ups that will advance from the North-Central region and hope to compete on the national stage in this year's Cleantech Open.

The 20 semi-finalists from the 10-state North-Central region include five Minnesota companies in three of the six categories. A Cleantech Open news release describes the companies:

Green Building category
Supreme Energy Products of Lakeville--Seamless building envelope systems to enable 50-70 percent greater energy savings

Renewable Energy category
Atmosphere Recovery of Eden Prairie--Dramatic energy output increases from gas or liquid-based renewable energy processes
INVELOX of Chaska--Technology for safe, silent, low-cost and high-efficiency wind power generation

Transportation category
CleanTrack of Plymouth--Fleet fuel consumption and hydrocarbon emissions reduction system.
RoutePerfect of Minneapolis--A new fuel optimization technology for the transportation industry

In October, finalists will be chosen from the regions to compete nationally for up to $250,000 in investment and services and an opportunity to present in front of 2,000 attendees at The Cleantech Open's Global Forum in November.

Perhaps more important is the advice, education, and access to investors that each semifinalist company will receive in the coming months, including coaching from a network of business mentors, one-on-one consulting with specialists, an intensive "boot camp," and other local supporting events and training.

Win or lose, it's an opportunity to develop or perfect business plans and showcase ideas in search of capital to get a start-up off the ground

This year marks the second year of participation for the North-Central region in the competition, which began nationally in 2006. Illinois, new to the region this year, also sends five companies into the semi-final round.

In total, 163 start-ups made the semifinal round nationwide.

Source: Cleantech Open
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

Project Skyway selects companies for first tech-accelerator class

After picking up speed over the last month, Minnesota's first tech accelerator is set to cruise with its first class of companies.

Following a weekend-long "bootcamp" June 10–12, Project Skyway chose eight "Skywalkers" from the field of 25 semi-finalist companies. Over the course of the weekend, the companies pitched their own and each other's ideas to fellow entrepreneurs, Project Skyway organizers, and the public. They attended roundtables with lawyers, investors, accomplished tech and software entrepreneurs, and others, and they met potential investors and customers.

"They certainly got a lot out of it," whether they moved on or not, said Project Skyway founder Cem Erdem of the 25 bootcampers. Project Skyway asked many of those not selected to apply for the next round after fine-tuning their ideas, adding a business partner, raising capital, or otherwise advancing their businesses.

After the bootcamp, the companies were rated by all involved, including each other and members of the public. In the end, eight were chosen:

COR² Technology--The company offers a cloud-based business-process and work-flow automation service to help organizations with 5 to 500 co-workers eliminate piles of paper by integrating simple applications with unlimited user licenses that power the whole organization.

Naiku--Naiku creates an affordable Software-as-a-Service that K-12 teachers use to easily individualize learning with a dashboard created by its proprietary analytics model.

Nitch--Nitch is an online platform for B2B collaboration and commerce.

Paypongo--Paypongo's service is a secure mobile payment solution that allows consumer-to-merchant transactions; consumer-to-consumer transactions; and merchant-to-merchant transactions, all through mobile devices. Transactions can originate from banking accounts or credit cards.

Qualtrx--Qualtrx is a new healthcare sales channel--an online solutions marketplace where healthcare providers publish patient-care needs, goals, and priorities, and where pharma and device vendors purchase these needs as "keywords" to make targeted needs-based proposals via the Qualtrx platform.

Telementry Web--TelemetryWeb helps makers of Internet-connected sensors and industrial devices build a new class of innovative, data-centric solutions by leveraging a ready-to-use, scalable Software-as-a-Service platform to secure, store, process, and integrate sensor data in novel ways.

Vanquish AP--VanquishAP is developing a real estate management platform that connects property managers, building owners, and tenants by creating local social communities while automating redundant tasks and centralizing logistics.

UHungry--UHungry is developing a social networking site to help college students save money and time by making it easy for them to place orders online at quick-serve restaurants with a group of friends while earning points to spend on future orders by completing tasks. This company, hailing from Long Island, was the only one not from Minnesota.

Erdem notes that the Skywalker companies are all early-stage companies, beyond the more basic start-up level.

Erdem and Casey Allen's video run-down of the eight Skywalkers gives an inside look not only at each of the companies, but at the Project Skyway decision process and model.

Cem and Casey Play-by-Play Skywalker Commentary from Casey Allen on Vimeo.

Although the accelerator class was intended to begin Aug. 1, Erdem sent an email this week informing the finalists that they would move forward now with the momentum of the bootcamp.
The class, and Project Skyway in general, will be based out of the tech accelerator's new shared space (with the co-working organization CoCo) in the Grain Exchange building in Downtown Minneapolis. Project Skyway plans a 'big party' at the end of July after the move in mid-July.

Erdem's personal email to each of the eight finalists reflects the tenor of his passion, and it sets the bar high for the participants:

"I bought into your vision," he writes, "but more importantly I bought into your purpose, your character, who you are. Our entire community will be watching you every step of the way. They are thirsty to see you succeed and bring the long lost entrepreneurial fame back to our region."

Source: Cem Erdem
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

Minnesota Angel Network poised for launch with regional partners, new COO

The Minnesota Angel Network is beta-testing and fine-tuning its process in anticipation of a public launch in July.

Announced in January, the network will help companies prepare for funding by angel investors and will connect the two groups.

Right now, seven companies are beta-testing the process, says Todd Leonard, executive director of the Minnesota Angel Network. They represent various industries, regions of the state, and even stages of development--"from the whole spectrum of business," he says.

The company types include software, internet sales, biotech/cleantech firms, and animal health, and they include new startups, firms that have been through the equity process previously, and operational companies seeking outside funds for the first time.

"We're finding that even very seasoned CEOs that actually have functional, operating companies still are finding our educational process extremely helpful," says Leonard.

It's that educational process, more than connecting companies with capital, that Leonard stresses the network is about.

"Our primary concern is the educational side to this," he says. "The investment is really an additional benefit that we have, in that we have this relationship with those investors."

Investors are poised for that relationship, however, according to Leonard, and the Minnesota Angel Network is aligned with a number of other states with angel investment networks--at least 18 other network funds that "represent a significant amount of angel investment monies," he says. The network has also partnered with Rain Source Capital and other networked funds in Minnesota and elsewhere.

The network is also leveraging regional economic development organizations across the state with which it partners. While many may refer companies to the emerging program, those that sponsor the network as donors will take an early-stage role, facilitating intake and some of the training.
Those basic steps include due diligence and gap analysis, readying companies and their information for investors --an effort that mitigates risk for investors and companies alike.

The angel network also now has a full-time chief operating officer: David Wagy, a former senior director of finance for Medtronic and an angel investor.

Leonard says his own role is currently focused on fundraising. The network's goal is to not use any funds outside of donors, he says, and to be self-sustaining within its second year of operations.

Source: Todd Leonard, Minnesota Angel Network
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

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

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

LocaLoop partnership will bring fast, affordable internet to remote areas

St. Paul-based LocaLoop is reaching across the globe--to Israel--to bring 4G broadband internet to rural and under-served areas of the Midwest.

LocaLoop announced last week a strategic marketing and technology agreement with the Israel-based network hardware firm Runcom. LocaLoop's cloud technology business management Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform, called aLoopNET, will be deployed using Runcom equipment.

LocaLoop founder and CEO Carl-Johan Torarp invented LocaLoop's 4G Mobile WiMAX/LTE enabling technology and founded the company in 2003 to provide products and solutions for 4G mobile broadband internet designed for the rural markets of the world.

On its website, LocaLoop states that it answers the question: "How can you build a profitable business delivering high-quality Broadband Internet service at an affordable subscriber price in low density areas both at home and on the go?"

The platform's cloud computing architecture is key to that, as it makes deployment of a virtual network operations center affordable for broadband internet service providers.

LocaLoop's target market is the approximately 50 million people in under-served and rural areas of the U.S. alone, according to its website.

The partnership with Runcom is "much more than a marketing and technology agreement," said Torarp in a press release. "Together we are able to deliver a powerful turnkey 4G wireless network solution with capabilities that we could not achieve individually."

The two companies will focus on the nine-state region of the upper Midwestern U.S. initially, and it may be the first of more joint ventures for LocaLoop. The company states on its website that it is currently in a testing phase on its own live 4G network and will begin roll-out with rural joint venture partners in the U.S. during midyear 2011.

Source: LocaLooop
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

Regional Cleantech Open seeks next big ideas, entrepreneurs

The search to "find, fund and foster" entrepreneurs with big ideas in cleantech kicked off last week in the North Central region: the 2011 Cleantech Open.

The second annual business competition is a year-long program through which budding companies receive mentorship and training from local experts and gain exposure to investors. Participants compete in six cleantech categories: renewable energy, transportation, smart power and energy storage, energy efficiency, green building, and air/water/waste.

There are prizes for the regional winners, including the chance to compete in the national Cleantech Open for more than $250,000 in cash and services. The North Central region covers Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, new to the region for the 2011 competition.

Last year, the North Central region contestants outnumbered all other regions but California, with more than 30 collaborations and 200 contributing professionals.

All four 2010 semi-finalists received funding, notes Justin Kaster, Cleantech Open North Central regional director. They included Minnesota startups New Water and EarthClean Corporation, whose innovative and environmentally responsible fire suppression earned them the 2010 Minnesota Cup title, as well.

The competition helps "drive innovation, create jobs, foster early-stage investment, and teach a more sustainable way of doing business," says Kaster in a press release.

Entries for the Cleantech Open are now being accepted online, and the North Central region is recruiting professional volunteers to assist as mentors, judges, and program committee members.

Source: Cleantech Open
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

Freewheel Bike creates 35 jobs with third retail location in Eden Prairie

If you see a disconnect between Minneapolis-mainstay Freewheel Bike's urban locations and the company's newest store in suburban Eden Prairie, take a look at a bike map.??

A long line of trails--primarily the Midtown Greenway and its western extensions--connects the flagship store, opened in 1974, to the new Eden Prairie location at 12910 Plaza Drive near Eden Prairie Center, where a network of local bike trails weaves its way through the surrounding area. (Along the 17-mile journey, one would pass Freewheel's trailside store near the Midtown Global Market, added in 2008.)

Eden Prairie includes 125 miles of biking trails, according to a press release, and Freewheel cites both leisure and urban/suburban commuters in its decision to locate there, as well as "an overall vision that supports and promotes bicycle riding, for leisure or commuting, throughout the Twin Cities metro area."

Freewheel is celebrating the opening of the new 7,000-square-foot store with a week-long open house, through March 28, with promotions at all three locations, including 20 percent off all the merchandise you can fit in a Freewheel Bike tote bag.

Freewheel owner Kevin Ishaug will manage the new store, which will support 35 new full- and part-time employees, bringing Freewheel's total staff count to 85, according to a press release.

The pairing of Freewheel and Eden Prairie marks the marriage of national elites: Money magazine's "best place to live" for 2010 and a Bicycle Retailer magazine "five-star retailer"--ranking in the top 100 nationwide for five straight years (along with local competitors Erik's and Penn Cycle).

In addition to its three locations, Freewheel also offers its Mobile Repair Squad and Gear Box vending machines, which offer repair kits and snack items along several Twin Cities-area bike trails.

Source: Freewheel Bike
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

St. Paul hires first sustainable transportation planner

Emily Goodman has given the subject some thought.

While earning degrees in geography and psychology at Macalester College, she wrote an honors thesis titled The Green Cities: an Exploration into the Twin Concepts of Urban Sustainability and Conservation Psychology.

In January, after nearly three years working on transportation and bike/walk issues in St. Paul's Department of Planning and Economic Development, Goodman began putting her knowledge and experience to work as the city's first sustainable transportation planner.

The position is a new spoke in the city's larger Sustainable St. Paul strategy. A key part of her work so far has been conducting a survey of bicycle projects in anticipation of a citywide bike plan, which she calls "much-needed and exciting."

Goodman will work to establish a "bicycle priority network"--areas and routes in which the city will support biking with aspects like signage, road treatments, traffic calming, bump-outs, bike boulevards, and off-street trails.

That too supports a larger effort: to create a balanced transportation plan in line with the city's adopted "Complete Streets" policy.

"It acknowledges that the system should serve all users," says Goodman. Cars, bikes, buses, light rail, and pedestrians all have their place. Goodman's position "will focus on types of transportation that…will need a little bit of extra love," she says.

Another part of her role is to partner with other organizations and municipalities--"anybody who is doing good work in the Twin Cities region," she says. St. Paul is currently working on an effort to establish regional way-finding guidelines with nearby counties, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and, of course, that twin city across the river.

While she does feel a bit overshadowed by the country's number-one bike city, St. Paul's relationship with Minneapolis is "friendly and collaborative," says Goodman, who calls Minneapolis "a great asset."

St. Paul has received some funding, for instance, as a rider on Minneapolis' participation in the federal Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program, administered through St. Paul-based Transit for Livable Communities.

And Goodman agrees that Minneapolis' lauded bike culture is bolstered at least a bit by its metropolitan neighbors.

"St. Paul has done amazing things," Goodman says. "I'm excited to improve on those, but also to improve on telling the story of what we're already doing."

Source: Emily Goodman, St. Paul's Department of Planning and Economic Development
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

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