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New Rules merges for- and non-profit missions to serve North Minneapolis artisans and community

An organization’s name needs to reflect its mission. New Rules does exactly that. The North Minneapolis for-profit/non-profit hybrid merges community event center, coworking office space, retail and, eventually, a café. At its core, the multi-prong concept blends creative enterprise, social entrepreneurship and community engagement, with a focus on improving and connecting the immediate community near its home on Lowry Avenue.

New Rules seeks to meet the needs of artistic creatives and small businesses while giving back to the local community. “It started with my love for community building and visualizing resources,” says founder Chris Webley. In speaking with artists, he saw a connection between the artisans’ needs and those of other small businesses. While fleshing out the New Rules concept, he realized it naturally extended to the North Minneapolis community where he wished to set up shop.

“We’re looking at ways of engaging different audiences and having conversations to help,” he explains. “The idea is that everybody is doing something. I cut the check, do the heavy-lifting,” he admits, then artisans create products in the work space and then sell them to the community through the retail store. “Everybody has something to contribute…we’re trying to get people to rally behind that idea.”

The event space is open to the community now, whether that means a neighborhood gathering or an art exhibit. Webley hopes to add a café later, which will then feed the community as well.

“Our niche is creative occupations,” he says, but it’s not limited by that mission. New Rules is adaptive based on who can help and what services they can offer.

To cater to creative industries, Webley wired a state-of-the-art sound system, and is actively seeking funds and donations from local corporations for other high-end equipment such as a 3D printer. “I’m gung-ho on doing things the right way the first time around,” says Webley, emphasizing that high-end equipment establishes a sense of pride and professionalism that patchwork gear cannot. New Rules seeks to invest in the community and to give back, which is why he wants the best technology he can find. 

Webley purchased the building himself and has overseen renovations. Though the coworking spaces are open now and the retail shop is running in a pilot mode since October 15, he considers New Rules a work in progress. The idea is fully formed and he’s built it from the ground-up, but there is room to grow.

Tenants will come, he says. Currently, he continues, “It’s more about getting the right things that are going to enable us to have an impact.” As the creative businesses grow, so will the retail store and the overall entity’s ability to reach out to their neighbors.

“The biggest needs for a lot of our immediate neighbors are financial resources,” Webley continues. By emphasizing sustainable leadership and economic development through an adaptive format, New Rules can improve lives directly. “There are many examples I can give you where the underlying factor is not having traditional limitations on how you can help,” he explains, “but getting creative.” He cites an example from last summer, when the building lent its lawnmower to a local homeless couple, who used it to earn funds for food and shelter.

By truly engaging their neighbors and finding unique solutions, Webley wants to achieve far more than a high-tech workspace for small businesses. He sees New Rules as connecting workers and neighbors, forging bonds that go beyond vocation.

The New Rules event center will be buzzing this February in honor of Black History Month, serving as a launch pad for the fully integrated concept. The cowork space will be upgraded and the retail store remodeled. “We’re not going to have everything that we want in terms of amenities,” Webley admits. “But we’re continuing to trek toward things.”
 

Minneapolis Idea eXchange to Incorporate Design Thinking in Free "Power of Ideas" Event

A year ago, the Minneapolis Idea eXchange (MiX) launched its festival of ideas in downtown Minneapolis during a lively event in which innovators from throughout MSP inspired participants to think in fresh new ways about the initiatives proposed in the Minneapolis Downtown Council’s 2025 Plan. On Wednesday, October 12, MiX resumes with its 2016 program, “The Power of Ideas.” Networking begins at 4:30 p.m., with the program scheduled from 5-6 p.m. The event takes place at Brave New Workshop.
 
John Sweeney, owner of Brave New Workshop, is kicking off the event along with Elena Imaretska. The two co-wrote the recently published book The Innovative Mindset. “MiX is a program that recognizes MSP as a world-class wellspring of innovation and a place of ideas,” Sweeney says. “The premise of our book is that you choose your mindset during your every waking hour. We work on helping people take a very practical approach to cultivating and maintaining an innovative mindset, in order to use skills like brainstorming and methodologies like design thinking to solve challenges.”
 
Following Sweeney and Imaretska’s group exercise in finding an innovative mindset, Tom Fisher, director of the University of Minnesota’s Metropolitan Design Center and author of Designing Our Way to a Better World, will guide an introduction to design thinking and launch the workshop portion of the event. Other panelists scheduled to participate in the event include Sondra Samuels of Northside Achievement Zone and Peter Frosch of Greater MSP. 
 
Minneapolis is “working on a commitment to end homelessness by 2025, figuring out how bicyclists and pedestrians and cars can navigate our roads together, how we can have a more equitable distribution of graduation rates in high schools, how to make the arts more accessible for everyone—the list goes on and on,” Sweeney says. MiX was created, in part, to address and provide working solutions for such problems.
 
“I’m passionate about gathering together a group of people with many different points of view to generate opportunities for harvesting the creativity and innovation that already exist here,” adds Imaretska. “That’s the beauty of innovation: Who knows what spark of an idea may trigger something bigger.”
 
The event will include a service component: A new take on the idea of “happy hour,” during which participants will make sandwiches that will be distributed to the homeless. “By matching a sense of service with a culture of innovation, we hope powerful things will be happening," says Imaretska.
 
Sweeney adds that he hopes this year’s MiX will result in outcomes that reflect “the hopefulness of starting. When you have 200 people in a room with open minds and a beer in their hands and a smile on their faces, then it’s a start. I'm excited to be a part of something that could someday be referred to as ‘the start.’”
 
MiX is free and open to the public. Register for MiX 2016: “The Power of Ideas” here.
 

Strategies for making MSP a tech and innovation hub

The U of M’s Carlson School of Business hosted its annual Tech Cities conference on March 27. The event drew hundreds of local innovators, investors and social entrepreneurs to the West Bank on the University of Minnesota campus in search of answers to a simple but vexing question: “How can we strengthen and promote MSP as a source for tech leadership, talent and innovation?”
 
The packed “Supporting Innovators in the Tech Cities” workshop offered a glimpse of the problems the region faces — and offered hope that workable solutions are within reach.
 
According to Matt Lewis, Greater MSP Strategy Manager and workshop moderator, MSP could produce “tens of thousands of jobs by 2020” that the region currently lacks the talent to fill. This “talent gap” is mostly due to two structural forces.
 
First, the accelerating pace of technological change is dramatically reordering the economy, rewarding highly skilled professionals and tech-savvy innovators while challenging those who don’t acquire new, relevant skills. This shift is happening everywhere, but it’s more pronounced in regional hubs like MSP (i.e., the capital of the North), where much of the tech economy’s most exciting, cutting-edge advances are forged.
 
The second structural force is unique to MSP: Despite a strong economy, reasonable living costs and excellent quality-of-life metrics, the region perennially struggles to attract the country’s — and world’s — best and brightest. The upside is that once transplants find their way here, they tend to stick around.
 
“The cliche that it’s hard to get people to come here and even harder to get them to leave holds true,” Lewis noted at the workshop. “We need to change the conversation and make [MSP] a global destination for people who self-identify as innovators.” Doing so would solve both problems: the technological talent gap and MSP’s “attraction issue.”
 
Four self-identified innovators who already call MSP home piped up to offer their ideas. Scott Cole, co-founder of the local tech cooperative Collectivity, proposed a “comprehensive tech accelerator” that would combine and magnify the efforts of existing local initiatives like the Minnesota High Tech Association, Greater MSP, MN Cup, university-based tech groups and others. The ultimate goal: to create a pervasive culture of innovation wherein cash-strapped innovators with great ideas effortlessly connect with investors, mentors and customers.
 
Melissa Kjolsing, MN Cup director, highlighted the tech world’s persistent gender gap — an issue that has gotten plenty of press in MSP and elsewhere. She noted that while women run 30 percent of all U.S. companies, most are solo operators. The solution: “deeper peer networks for women,” she argued. Women entrepreneurs need positive role models, namely successful female business owners who have made it through the male-dominated startup gauntlet. 
 
Kjolsing noted that though MN Cup has yet to achieve parity, the prestigious tech competition is spearheading the drive to empower women entrepreneurs: In 2014, about one-third of MN Cup entries came from all-women teams, up from 25 percent the previous year; 45 percent of 2014’s teams had at least one woman on the roster.
 
Lee George of the James J. Hill Reference Library argued that MSP must do more to support ambitious people at the two biggest “pinch points”: the moment when the entrepreneur moves from tinkering with an idea in their spare time to quitting their day job and fully plunging into their startup; and the exit strategy, or the point at which the entrepreneur steps away from the company he or she founded to focus on a new project or simply “cash out.”
 
Without support from mentors, investors and talented employees, many entrepreneurs never make it past the first pinch point, and their dream either dies or goes into a long slumber. Meanwhile, those fortunate enough to be able to contemplate an exit strategy often don’t know how to forge the connections with leaders of the established firms that typically buy up successful startups. It’s worth noting, for instance, that though MSP has a deep bench of Fortune 500 firms capable of financing numerous buyouts, one of the region’s most successful startups — SmartThings — turned to a Korean firm (Samsung) for its exit.
 
George advised existing organizations like Greater MSP and MHTA to adjust their programming in two ways: creating better and more numerous mentorship opportunities for soon-to-be-full-time entrepreneurs, and deepening connections between successful startups and major firms.
 
David Berglund, the fourth speaker, exemplifies the power of connections between MSP’s startup community and established business players. He’s UnitedHealth’s “entrepreneur in residence” and co-founder of Hoodstarter, a real-estate crowdfunding app. At UnitedHealth, he’s more or less in charge of “building healthcare startups from the ground up.”
 
“We need to accelerate the pace of innovation in large, sometimes bureaucratic corporations,” he said. “To do that, we need to get off the corporate campus and out of our comfort zone.”
 
Berglund believes that MSP’s major corporations need to communicate better and experiment more, both with one another and with the region’s entrepreneurs. Knowledge — and knowledge sharing — is power, after all. Berglund’s dream: an MSP in which big companies, successful small businesses and fledgling startups “forge partnerships and come together without fear of stealing each other’s ideas.” Such an outcome could accelerate the pace of business formation here and transform MSP into a truly global innovation hub.
 
 

Outsell racks up impressive growth figures

Outsell, based on the 32nd floor of the Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis, is one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. according to Inc. Since 2010, Outsell has roughly tripled its employee base and quadrupled its revenue. The company earned a spot (#455) on the 2014 Deloitte Fast 500, a closely watched list that tracks revenue growth at public and private North American companies. According to Deloitte, Outsell is Minnesota’s third-fastest growing tech company.
 
And Outsell shows not signs of slowing down. The company has added 15 jobs this year, bringing its total headcount to more than 100, and predicts an equal or greater number of employees for 2015.
 
“Our people are our most important asset by far,” says founder and CEO Mike Wethington. “We’re constantly looking for talented, self-starting candidates, especially web developers, data analysts and marketing specialists.”
 
Outsell’s current office space measures about 18,000 square feet, with a variety of spaces that encourage collaboration. Depending on the pace of hiring next year and beyond, says Wethington, his company may soon need to exercise an option to expand into the Capella Tower’s 31st floor.
 
Outsell was started in 2004, when Wethington, a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” bought Judson Bemis’s Solv Technology, which had developed an online lead generation solution for auto dealers. Wethington and his first employees improved and streamlined the platform, developing analytics to predict customer preferences and deliver automated, high-value marketing material.
 
For instance, a recent car buyer might receive emails or texts advertising oil changes, tune-ups and vehicle-appropriate accessories consistent with the buyer’s past purchasing and web navigating habits. “We customize and automate everything for the dealers so they can devote more resources to selling and fixing cars,” says Wethington.
 
“The experience is brand-consistent, like Amazon,” he explains, allowing independently owned and franchised dealers to use the same platform and analytics as others selling the same model. Outsell currently works with about 1,000 U.S. dealers and seven automotive brands, sending out automated communications to about 10 million consumers per month.

If you’ve recently purchased a new or used vehicle from a franchised dealer, there’s a good chance Outsell is behind the marketing emails and texts it sends you.
 
Despite its reach, there’s room for Outsell to grow. Dealers spend well over $1 billion per year on marketing, says Wethington, and many don’t yet use automated customer-contact solutions.
 
Even as Outsell racks up impressive growth figures and finds new ways to improve the customer experience, the company devotes significant resources to employee retention. The company offers unlimited paid time off, with no questions asked, and no distinction between sick days and vacation time, a rarity in the modern workplace.
 
“We place a lot of trust in our employees,” Wethington explains. “We expect them to take care of their work and reward them for holding up their end of the bargain,” –i.e., getting their work done on time.
 
Outsell also offers a profit sharing program for all associates, including entry-level employees, as well as performance bonuses, a matching 401(k) and tuition reimbursements for associates looking to further their careers with advanced degrees.
 
In a typical year, says Wethington, Outsell devotes 3 to 5 percent of total operating income to charitable contributions. The company’s employee-led Caring Committee partners with the Minnesota Keystone Program to distribute financial resources and manpower to groups like the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the ASPCA.
 
Giving back to the local community is a win-win experience for employees, says Wethington—just like every workday at Outsell. The company’s perks earned it a spot on a recent Star Tribune list of best Minnesota work environments.
 
“We love being based in the Twin Cities,” he says. “We’ve got a talented, smart, kind workforce that understands the value of hard work and doing the right thing.”
 
Outsell Jobs in Minneapolis
 
Senior Software Analyst

Senior Software Developers
 
 

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.
 

Social Innovation Lab plans "Deep Dive" for change agents

Social Innovation Lab, a Minneapolis-based social justice organization begun in partnership with the Bush Foundation, is holding its next "Leading Innovation Deep Dive" on September 15 and 16 at the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center on Minneapolis's North Side. The event will be one of a dozen that the organization has held in the past two years, all focused on training local employers and employees to "solve complex social challenges."

Social Innovation Lab is the brainchild of Sam Grant and Michael Bischoff, two social justice veterans who have decades of combined experience. Grant currently runs two other nonprofits, AfroEco and Full Circle Community Institute. Bischoff is Clarity Foundation's lead consultant. Bo Thao-Urabe, who is the Senior Director of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and runs RedGreen Rivers (an initiative that supports female artisans), is assisting Grant and Bischoff.

The Deep Dive aims to unite decision makers and role players from diverse backgrounds to talk through—and implement, at least on an experimental level—solutions to the Twin Cities' most entrenched social issues, including broken food systems and racial disparities in housing and hiring. The goal is to customize solutions to fit the needs of individual organizations, creating a graduating class of "change agents" who can apply what they've uncovered to the problems they face.

The Deep Dive walks participants through every step of the change-seeking process, from "clarifying the intent of your team" to "build[ing] prototypes that develop practical solutions" and "scal[ing] innovation for social benefit," according to the Lab's website. Participants are guided by six global principles, from "bring[ing] an open heart, mind, and will" to "honor[ing" commitments."

The ambition and optimism of the Deep Dive—and Social Innovation Lab in general—is a conscious counterweight to the sometimes-overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that can afflict people who work for positive change.

"Everybody that we've talked to is saying...the same things," says Grant in a video posted to Social Innovation Lab's website. "As hard as they work, they feel like they're facing this dynamic...where they're getting one step forward and two steps back, and they can't really sense that what they're doing is leading to the deep change that they desire."

As Bischoff puts it, it's much easier—and more exciting—to work on overcoming these obstacles as part of a team, "instead of just trying harder by yourself." The end result: a "community of social innovators" that drives momentum for positive change and "close[s] all of these persistent gaps," says Grant.
 

New Fusion program addresses shortage of tech workers

In less than a year, a partnership between Advance IT Minnesota and Metropolitan State University has produced Fusion, an “IT residency” program that will officially launch during the 2014-15 academic year. Fusion places students in various technology degree programs with local employers—ranging from cutting-edge startups to Fortune 500 firms—that need flexible, entry-level IT labor. The program has already accepted applications for the coming year’s roster and is in the process of vetting applicants.

Unlike a traditional internship, which typically runs a single academic semester, each participant’s residency lasts 18 to 24 months—roughly tracking their last two years of college. Students are paid for their time, typically less than 20 hours per week, with projects assigned by their employers and paychecks issued by their school.

Fusion currently has 40 open spots, but Bruce Lindberg, executive director of Advance IT Minnesota, hopes to grow the program significantly in time for the 2015-16 academic year by expanding the program’s enrollment at Metro State and creating an identical residency program at Mankato State. By next year, enrollment could increase twofold, with further growth possible.

“If employer demand and participation grow beyond the capacity of those two partners,” says Lindberg, “we will look to expand by involving other academic partners” around the Twin Cities and outstate areas.

With a projected deficit of nearly 10,000 tech workers in the state by 2020, Fusion aims to accelerate the development of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s high-tech workforce while making it easier—and less risky— for employers and prospective employees to find one another. Currently, the rapidly growing and changing industry suffers from “skill mismatch,” where employers struggle to find candidates who can keep pace with changing job requirements and competencies.

“Many graduates face the frustrating reality of employers asking new grads for two to three years of experience…which they usually don't have,” says John Fairbanks, a third-year Metro State student who applied to the program this spring. “[T]hrough the Fusion program, I will graduate with a degree and have substantial experience to back it…allowing me to enter the job market more quickly and with real-world experience to solve real-world problems.”

The idea for Fusion developed out of conversations between Lindberg and Marty Hebig, Maverick Software Consulting’s founder and president, in January 2013. Lindberg and Hebig, whose company helps firms avoid offshoring by hiring low-cost, U.S.-based student IT workers for special projects and ongoing work, helped recruit other local business leaders to the cause. He also helped them build a compelling case for an IT residency program. In January 2014, Metro State approved the program and began publicizing it to students.

Employers and managers who wish to learn more about Fusion can attend an information session, hosted by Advance IT Minnesota, at MCTC’s campus on June 17 between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. RSVP through Bruce Lindberg at Bruce.Lindberg@metrostate.edu or 612-659-7228.


 

Groundswell hosts artwork from MMAA/Galtier School collaboration

During a two-week residency, a group of 33 students from St. Paul’s Galtier Community School collaborated with the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) on a multifaceted art project called CuratorKids. The 4th and 5th grade students’ artworks will be exhibited at Groundswell, a nearby coffee shop, from Dec. 16 through Jan. 19. In the spring of 2014, the childrens' artwork will also be exhibited by MMAA.    

MMAA developed CuratorKids to address “the shortage of art education in our public schools by offering a program that brings art and practicing artists directly to the kids,” MMAA  materials state.

Through the program, students examined a handful of artworks from the museum’s collection, according to Heidi Swanson,  technology integration specialist at Galtier. Students then wrote poems about the museum pieces. The following week, students responded to the artwork in a different way -- by making mixed-media collages. In their collages, Swanson says, "They made artistic choices relating to color, objects, and emotion.”   

Diana Johnson, a consultant to the program, says the museum pieces became “source material" for the students. “These kids really were responding emotionally and aesthetically" to the museum works, she says, which they "turned into their own work."

After the residency wrapped up, the students recorded podcasts of their poems and videos of their collages. Their poems can be listened to online here.  

Johnson hopes the project helps the students gain confidence in artmaking, as well as in academic subjects. The school hasn’t had an art program for a number of years. But CuratorKids shows students that “they can do things they didn’t know they could," she says. "If they stick with it, they can surprise themselves and see that the world around them cares and is interested in them."   

As if in response to that sentiment, a group of school volunteers pitched in $300 to frame the collages for the coffee shop exhibit, according to Swanson. At Groundswell, the students’ recordings will be accessible online via QR codes that can be scanned by smartphones.  

Swanson hopes the residency inspires students’ ongoing creativity. Through programs like CuratorKids, she says, "We hope to build a bridge to our community and create opportunities for our students to share their successes beyond the school walls." 


Source: Heidi Swanson, technology integration specialist, Galtier Community School
Writer: Anna Pratt 















EO survey shows "It's a good time to be an entrepreneur"

A recent survey from the Entrepreneurs Organization of Minnesota found that entrepreneurs are in a good position to hire more workers. More and more, entrepreneurs are also feeling confident about where the economy is headed--and it's up.

The organization, a chapter of a larger network of entrepreneurs around the globe, collected feedback from 72 Minnesota companies that achieve $1 million or more in revenue each year. 

Kevin Burkart, president of the local chapter, says the bottom line is that, “It’s a good time to be an entrepreneur.” 

The annual study is a strong economic indicator. “Small business owners are significant drivers of many economies,” he says. 

As much as 71 percent of entrepreneurs across the state are poised to hire more full-time workers, the study found. Likewise, 62 percent plan to bring on more part-time workers in the next six months. The consensus among survey participants is that the economy is steadily improving. 

Also, the vast majority of survey participants were optimistic about the prospect of starting a new venture in the next six months. 

That jibes with the national organization’s findings. The trend has been positive over the past few years, with a consistent increase in hiring, particularly in the U.S., according to Burkart. The findings relate to the potential evident in the “domestic rebirth in manufacturing in the U.S., with companies insourcing instead of outsourcing,” as costs overseas go up, he explains. 

From 2006 to 2010, survey responses went in the opposite direction. But entrepreneurialism tends to thrive in challenging economic times. “More people get laid off and they pursue those entrepreneurial ideas,” Burkart says. 

The next 5 to 10 years “are rich for the U.S. economy,” he says. “I think the future is bright for entrepreneurs and our annual indicator survey supports that conclusion.”  


Source: Kevin Burkart, president, StepStoneGroup and Entrepreneurs Organization of Minnesota 
Writer: Anna Pratt 












New mobile app development school strives to push local tech scene

Smart Factory, a new school for mobile app development located in Minneapolis’s Uptown neighborhood, is on a mission to deepen the tech talent pool in Minnesota. 

Jeff Lin of Bust Out Solutions, and Mike Bollinger of TechdotMN and Livefront, who are friends and colleagues, founded Smart Factory, which held its inaugural classes in October.   

The need for Smart Factory rose out of rapid changes in the web and mobile industry, Lin says. “Formal academic training can’t keep up” with the changes, he says, adding that some developers find it difficult to stay on the cutting-edge while working a full-time job. 

The tech scene is “already being pushed forward by market forces and people’s desires and interests. We hope to help that cause by training people directly,” he says.

Smart Factory's program is aimed at experienced designers and engineers who want to expand their skills, especially those related to web and mobile app technology. Companies can also send employees to the school to gain software development skills, as opposed to having to outsource those skills.     

Six-week classes, led by leaders in the field, cover Mobile UI Design, Ruby on Rails, Web Production, iOS Development, and Android Development. Students follow along with the lessons on their laptops. 

Class sizes are no more than 16 people, to ensure everyone gets plenty of individual attention, Lin says. Two mentor-teachers lead the classes, as well. “In programming and design courses, there’s a lot of hands-on activity, so it’s always good to have one-on-one time with teachers,” he says. 

Additionally, students are expected to spend another 10 to 15 hours on their studies outside of the classroom, according to Smart Factory materials.  

Lin hopes the school fosters collaboration within the local tech community. “We want to educate people about what we’re passionate about," he says. "It’s less of a competition and more of a collaboration. Collaborative competition is good too."

Although schools like Smart Factory are popping up around the country, few exist in the Twin Cities. With the opening of Smart Factory, Lin expects other schools to will launch within the next couple of years. 

Source: Jeff Lin, co-founder, Smart Factory
Writer: Anna Pratt 






TreeHouse "innovation center" opens in Loring Park

TreeHouse Health, an “innovation center” with an emphasis on healthcare IT and care coordination, opened its doors on Oct. 17. 

The idea behind the for-profit “innovation center,” based in Minneapolis's Loring Park neighborhood, is to help emerging, and larger more established healthcare companies, grow and solve industry issues, the TreeHouse website states. 

TreeHouse is in a position to do so, thanks to its six partners with extensive expertise in healthcare and investment. 

Jeffrey (J.D.) Blank, the company’s managing director, says TreeHouse can offer networking opportunities, office space, cash for startups, and other resources. Blank’s dad is Dr. John Blank, TreeHouse’s chairman of the board, who is also the president of Dalmore Investments, an angel fund in Minneapolis. “We offer access to customers, make introductions, allow them to leverage the relationships of our partners,” says J.D. Blank.      

Collaboration is key, he says. "We view an 'innovation center' as an ecosystem, an environment that supports entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, the innovators within a larger organization.” 

“We’re hoping to get small and large companies from every sector of healthcare,” all of which bring different views to solve healthcare issues, he says. “The industry is so broad and complicated that we think having every angle represented, creating a 360-degree ecosystem will help parties navigate the challenges.” 

Creating that ecosystem means “getting the right companies with the right mindset, that are willing to collaborate and contribute to the ecosystem at large,” he adds. 

As such, TreeHouse intends to cultivate a network of service providers and business professionals that can offer support to companies. TreeHouse intends to bring companies into the fold for six months to two years. “We think companies will see the value in it,” he says. 

Already, TreeHouse has signed on RiverSystems LLC, a startup that developed HomeStream, “a tool comprised of easy-to-use, computer-assisted capabilities designed to improve the quality of life for seniors and aging baby boomers,” a prepared statement reads. 
 

Source: Jeffrey (J.D.) Blank, managing director, TreeHouse Health 
Writer: Anna Pratt 






DigiFabLab gives students digital prototyping capability

Students at the University of Minnesota's College of Design will now have even more prototyping power, thanks to the debut of a new digital fabrication laboratory, nicknamed the DigiFabLab.
 
The facility lets students create 3D models of their work, and includes laser cutting technology, and equipment donated by Eden Prairie-based Stratasys.
 
Previously, students had access to some 3D modeling and fabrication equipment, but the DigiFabLab's new systems let them work in hard plastic to produce stronger models, according to Associate Dean and Professor Lee Anderson. These types of models can be beneficial for simulating joint connections in buildings, for example.
 
An additional laser cutter in the lab makes it easier for students to cut building facades with more precision, a process that's usually very complicated and time-consuming when done by hand.
 
In the future, the DigiFabLab anticipates adding more equipment like computer-controlled modeling, a lathe, and routers.
 
"Whenever you can represent an object in a different way, it gives you new insight into what that design can do, and you can see aspects of it in a fresh way," says Anderson. "Looking at a building design as a sketch and as a 3D model create two different ways of seeing the same thing, and that contributes to your understanding of it."
 
Source: Lee Anderson, University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

U of M program helps engineers boost business skills

The University of Minnesota provides engineering students with the technical knowledge that makes them leaders in their field--and now, the school gives them an edge in business savvy, too.
 
The university recently began offering workshops to engineers and scientists on business topics like networking, leadership, teamwork, and creativity, through an initiative called the Gemini Project.
 
Named after the endowment provided by an anonymous donor who had once been an engineering student himself, the Gemini Project will present the workshops every other Wednesday throughout the school year, focusing on the types of skills that will be useful for engineering professionals. For example, one talk about office dynamics will provide tips on building and maintaining strong workplace relationships.
 
"We've seen over and over that what makes you successful in your job isn't necessarily your ability to do the task at hand, it's your ability to lead others, think strategically, and meet an organization's goals," says Tess Surprenant, Gemini Chair and Senior Fellow of the Technological Leadership Institute at the university's College of Science and Engineering.
 
She adds that the information presented in Gemini workshops isn't radical, since they're covering material that's standard for many business schools. But targeting the material specifically for engineering students is a new twist that's becoming a national trend. Every large engineering school is trying to boost these types of professional abilities among its students, Surprenant says, because there's growing awareness of the importance of business skills.
 
The university is on its way to becoming an example for others to follow. The first Gemini workshop was well attended, considering that it was held only two weeks after school started, Surprenant notes. The program is hoping to grow attendance from its current average of 30 students to over 100 per workshop.
 
Source: Tess Surprenant, University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

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

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

University of Minnesota adds concentration in environmental and energy law

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

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