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Box Fresh artfully enlivens utility boxes in Marcy-Holmes

For drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians in Dinkytown and the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood in Minneapolis, the view has gotten more interesting. The Box Fresh Utility Wraps Project, an initiative spearheaded by the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association (MHNA) and The Soap Factory, was unveiled July 25 and will be on view through the remainder of the summer.

The initiative paid for six artists to transform six utility boxes at high-visibility intersections. "We wanted to use this opportunity as a showcase for professional artists," many of them local, says Chris Lautenschlager of MHNA. "For well over a decade, Marcy-Holmes has conceptualized its streets as an urban gallery," he adds. As examples he points to the Moroni sculptures on 6th Avenue SE and the murals scattered around Dinkytown.

Scott Bean, whose box is at 326 6th Avenue SE, is a local resident and former instructor at the Marcy Open School. Candy Kuehn, whose work is at 327 14th Avenue SE, is a Minneapolis artist. Tony Chrenka and Christina Laskowski, a recent University of Minnesota graduate, are both former residents: Their boxes appear at 1300 4th Street SE and 100 University Avenue SE, respectively.

Though not a resident, Norbert Marklin has collaborated on various art projects with Marcy Open School staff and students. Rachel Orman is an active Marcy Open School parent and patron of the Southeast Library.

Utility boxes are bulky, ground-based assemblies located at intersections with traffic lights. "Their primary purpose is to control the nearby traffic signals," Lautenschlager says. "We chose these locations, along or near University Avenue SE and 4th Street SE, because of their maximized visibility to passing cars, bicycles and pedestrians."

According to the MHNA press release, the artwork ranges from "traditional painting to contemporary conceptual." The project had a price tag of about $12,000. The TCF Bank Stadium Good Neighbor Fund, a neighborhood improvement fund administered by the Stadium Area Advisory Group (which in turn is associated with the University District Alliance), provided $5200.

Although the MHNA had never undertaken a project like this, Lautenschlager says the organization drew inspiration from "Thinking Out of the Box," an initiative undertaken by south Minneapolis' Kingfield Neighborhood Association in 2009 and 2010.

MHNA has plans for more eye-catching street features. The MHNA recently received another Good Neighbor grant to fund a "wayfinding project" for the Dinkytown Greenway, which serves the greater U of M area. "[We'll be] adding signage that will lead to the Dinkytown Greenway and point people in the desired directions away from it," says Lautenschlager.


MARS Lab and Google's mapping initiative for smartphones

Earlier this year, Google selected the University of Minnesota’s MARS Lab as its primary academic partner for Project Tango, a high-profile indoor mapping initiative that has been compared to Google Maps. The selection came with a $1.35 million grant and a directive to explore—and expand on—the possibilities of a prototype smartphone capable of creating 3D maps of indoor spaces. Google’s only other academic partner on the project, Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University, has a much smaller role.

According to Google, the current prototype device is a “5 inch Android phone containing highly customized hardware and software designed to track the full 3D motion of the device as you hold it while simultaneously creating a map of the environment.”

The phone can take up to 250,000 spatial measurements per second to create an intricate map of its surroundings.  While this technology isn’t yet available as an app on regular smartphones, part of MARS Lab’s charge is to create apps and APIs—mobile development platforms—that enable the app to be scaled down and included with non-specialized devices. Within a few years, some form of the technology will be available for download like any other Android app. The U of M lab will have played a central role in making that possible.

A major challenge will involve surmounting the technology’s requirement for two independent cameras. It’s unclear whether future versions will be able to work with a single smartphone camera, or whether devices that use it will need to have at least two vision sensors. A strict non-disclosure agreement, breach of which could jeopardize the lab’s funding, prevents MARS Lab director Stergios I. Roumeliotis from getting into such specifics about Project Tango.

A video released last month by the MARS Lab team shows the prototype’s capabilities. Although the current version produces a somewhat slow, abstract representation of its surroundings, future iterations will create near-lifelike interior maps. Google and MARS envision three broad areas in which 3D mapping can play a role: virtual/augmented reality video games, internal navigation in unfamiliar buildings (rendering directions in malls and corporate edifices all but obsolete), and navigation aids for the visually impaired. But innovation probably won’t stop there: In a recent interview, Roumeliotis argued that “the list of potential future applications is endless.”

In addition to Roumeliotis, two MARS Lab alums who have since taken positions with Google—Joel Hesch and Esha Nerurkar—are leading the development charge. The building blocks for the project were actually laid about a decade ago, when the MARS Lab team helped create the internal navigation system, known as VINS, for NASA’s Mars landers. A loss of NASA funding for the project proved to be a blessing in disguise, as Roumeliotis’s team found that the system worked just as well for earthbound mapping and navigation.

Tenth Minnesota Cup for entrepreneurs adds category

In March, the tenth iteration of the Minnesota Cup officially opened to entrepreneurs across the state. The initiative provides mentoring to participants that pass the initial selection phase, as well as financial support for winners. The Cup accepts applications from nascent businesses in seven broad categories, including Food/Agriculture/Beverage, which is new this year and sponsored by General Mills. Melissa Kjolsing, the Cup’s director, ascribes the addition to a massive jump in consumables-related submissions last year. The entry deadline is 11:59 p.m. on May 9.

The Cup’s prize structure isn’t lavish, at least by the inflated standards of the venture capital business. Five of the seven division winners take home $30,000 in cash, with Student and Social winners receiving $20,000 prizes. The grand-prize winner gets an extra $50,000 when the contest wraps up in September. According to past winners, though, the money is almost beside the point.

“Starting anything on your own is difficult,” says Julie Gilbert Newrai, whose PreciouStatus software won the 2012 Minnesota Cup’s grand prize. But, she explains, the serial entrepreneurs, business leaders, and technology experts who donate their time as Cup mentors are “genuinely interested in helping [participants] win.” These veterans help their mentees craft better business plans, hone their investor pitches, and connect with potential partners, employees, and investors.

Newrai is careful not to exaggerate how PreciouStatus’ win influenced the company’s prospects, but it clearly helped. In total, she ascribes more than $1 million in direct investment to her company’s post-win visibility. And that’s just part of the “Cup boost.”

As Newrai sees it, Cup participation does three things for entrepreneurs and their teams. First, it raises startups’ profiles within the state—and, by extension, within the national VC and angel investing communities, which are plugged into local startup scenes. Second, it subjects participants to a barrage of questions and criticisms from veterans who have tried, failed, and succeeded, often in quick succession. “You can’t buy that kind of confidence boost,” says Newrai.

Last but not least, Cup participation shapes and strengthens internal culture: Even if they don’t win, entrepreneurs and their employees derive a well-earned sense of pride and accomplishment from their efforts, validating the sense that they’ve built something valuable.

Minnesota Cup isn’t a radical idea. Businesses have long sought mentoring and funding from more experienced actors, after all. But the initiative dramatically simplifies the process for ambitious entrepreneurs who want to put their ideas in the right hands. The application process is digital and requires entrepreneurs to enter just a page’s worth of data. The competition is open to entrepreneurs at various points in the startup phase, says Kjolsing, from “people with good ideas” to principals of companies with $1 million in annual revenues.

Kjolsing echoes Newrai’s sentiments about the relative merits of money and mentoring. The Minnesota Cup “does provide seed funding, but money isn’t the biggest factor,” she says. “The exposure piece is critical.” Exposure, of course, often leads to investment. And the initiative’s list of sponsors reads like a who’s who of Twin Cities business—from United Health to Digital River—making it an invaluable networking opportunity.

Even entrepreneurs who have existing investor and mentor networks? “There’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to enter the Minnesota Cup,” Newrai says.

Sources: Melissa Kjolsing, Julie Gilbert Newrai
Writer: Brian Martucci

One Day on Earth gathers Twin Cities stories

Got big plans for April 26? Lu Lippold, the local producer for One Day on Earth’s “One Day in the Twin Cities,” has a suggestion: Grab whatever video recording device you can—cameraphones included—and record the audio-visual pulse of your neighborhood.

On the final Saturday of April, the Twin Cities and 10 other U.S. metros will host the fourth installment of One Day on Earth’s celebration of film, culture, and all-around placemaking. Founded by Los Angeles-based film producers Kyle Ruddick and Brandon Litman, One Day on Earth (ODOE) has a “goal of creating a unique worldwide media event where thousands of participants would simultaneously film over a 24-hour period,” according to its website.

The first event took place on October 10, 2010 (10-10-10); 11-11-11 and 12-12-12 followed. ODOE skipped 2013, but its organizers weren’t about to wait until 2101 for their next shot. Instead, they selected a spring Saturday—both to accommodate amateur filmmakers with 9-to-5 jobs, and to give participants in the Northern Hemisphere longer daylight hours to work with—for a bigger, bolder, slightly revamped version of the event.

For the first time, participants get 10 questions to inspire their creativity and guide their storytelling, from “What is the best thing happening in your city today?” to “Who is your city not serving?” The goal is to create a multi-frame snapshot of “cities in progress,” one that doesn’t simply answer the who-what-where of the places it covers.

As One Day in the Twin Cities’ point person, Lippold supervises local filmmakers and pitched the project to dozens of partner organizations, including the Science Museum of Minnesota and Springboard for the Arts to visual media companies like Cinequipt and Vimeo. (The McKnight Foundation and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative are the largest local sponsors.)

The upside? “[The event] is a great way to shine a light on all the hard work that our nonprofit community does,” says Lippold.

Lippold also works with a handful of local ambassadors, some of whom enjoy national acclaim. These include noted cinematographer Jeff Stonehouse, veteran documentarian Matt Ehling, and community-focused filmmaker D.A. Bullock. They’ll be contributing their talents—and stature—to One Day in the Twin Cities’ promotion and execution.

One Day in the Twin Cities could be seen well beyond Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Along with their counterparts from other participating cities, local filmmakers may see their work incorporated into a condensed, three-part series that Litman and Lichtbau will market to PBS affiliates around the country. No word on whether TPT will air the special, but TPT Rewire has agreed to publicize the event in the coming weeks.

The real stars of One Day in the Twin Cities, though, are its filmmakers. Even if you’ve never filmed anything in your life, says Lippold, you can contribute meaningful work. Thanks to an interactive map feature on ODOE’s main site, the work will visible to anyone who visits.

“If I were just starting out in video, I would see this as a huge opportunity,” says Lippold. Since all contributions are credited by name and location, each participant “instantly becomes a documentary filmmaker,” she adds.

Source: Lu Lippold
Writer: Brian Martucci

Punch Pizza gets SOTU shout out for raising "wage floor"

“And Nick helps make the dough…only now he makes a lot more of it.”

With those words, spoken by President Barack Obama during last week’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, Nick Chute became the Twin Cities’ most famous pizza maker. Moreover, Chute enjoyed those moments of fame while seated with Punch Pizza co-owner John Sorrano behind the First Lady during the joint session of Congress.

Why did President Obama showcase Chute, and his bosses Sorrano and John Puckett, during the State of the Union? Because in a notoriously low-margin industry, Punch’s owners have taken a bold risk, raising the company’s “wage floor” to $10 per hour.

The President devoted several minutes of last week’s address to “honoring the dignity of work,” as he put it, noting that the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is about 20 percent lower than the wage floor during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

In a recent press release, Punch’s owners characterized their decision to raise workers’ wages as a simple business calculation. “As we continue to grow Punch,” Sorrano stated in the release, “we recognize that only the most dedicated employees will position us to compete and maintain the highest quality food and the best service in the market.”

Puckett also underscores the importance of investing in the things that matter most to a business, regardless of how those investments might affect margins in the short-term. Punch has been around for 18 years, he notes, “and we aim to get 10 percent better each year. We’ve invested in real prosciutto, authentic marble for our customer areas…and now we’re investing in our people.”

Previously, the company started most entry-level employees at $8 per hour, so a bump to $10 represents a 25 percent hike across the board. Puckett isn’t sure how long it will take for this “investment” to pay off, but he does know how much it’ll cost: $3 million over the next decade, assuming Punch stays at its current size—which it won’t.

Although there aren’t any plans to franchise the business or mount an aggressive expansion, Punch’s co-owners plan to open one new store per year for the foreseeable future. With nearly 300 current employees across eight stores, that translates to roughly 30 new hires per year.

As a private company, Punch isn’t required to make detailed financial disclosures, but the wage raise “will result in a significant hit to our profit in the short to medium term,” says Puckett. “Ultimately, we’d rather be higher-quality and less profitable than lower-quality and more profitable.”

By making work worthwhile for entry-level employees, Punch’s co-owners hope to make their managers’ jobs easier. Well-compensated cooks and servers are more likely to prioritize work over other obligations, the thinking goes, increasing the chances that bosses can put schedules together without too much arm-twisting.  

And employees who earn a living wage tend to stick around for longer, learning valuable skills that improve the customer experience and create a deeper talent pool from which to draw management candidates. Over time, the whole enterprise runs more smoothly and boosts its reputation among diners, who may even feel comfortable paying a little more for Punch’s irresistible Neapolitan pies.

It’s too early to tell whether other business leaders in traditionally low-wage sectors will follow Punch’s example. While political handicappers are cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a federal minimum wage hike—Obama’s goal is $10.10 per hour—not every SOTU attendee was as thrilled as Chute. Any legislation would have to make it past Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who has always been cool to the idea.

Sources: Punch Pizza release, John Puckett
Writer: Brian Martucci

University of Minnesota launches new small business program

Sustainable growth is the holy grail for any small business, and the University of Minnesota is now aiming to help more companies reach that goal.

The university recently developed Small Biz, a 9-month program designed for small, established businesses that will identify and address key growth challenges.

Once a company is selected for inclusion, it can take advantage of monthly advisor sessions, co-working space, workshops, and interaction with peer companies. One particularly distinctive aspect of the program is the access to university graduate student projects, according to Jeffrey Seltz, Manager of Business Development Services in the university's Office for Business & Community Economic Development.

Business owners can depend on implementation support from a "smart and ambitious graduate student," he notes, as well as tap into the university's other research and faculty resources. The university is in the process of choosing its first round of eight to 10 companies (application info is available on the Small Biz site), and kickoff is expected the first week of September.

The program stems from an assessment done by the Carlson School of Management, which looked at small business needs, and specifically at what types of resources could be improved.

Although similar programs are cropping up nationally and in the metro area, Seltz notes that Small Biz is set apart because it's not geared toward starting businesses and entrepreneurs, but instead toward established companies looking to reach the next level of growth. Also, the array of resources available from the university makes it a particularly rich, supportive environment.

"We have access to key resources, cutting-edge research, and a vast network," he says. "It's an intense program, and we're looking forward to seeing it in action."

Source: Jeffrey Seltz, University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Startup Aria CV to commercialize U of M med device technology

A start-up company hopes to use University of Minnesota technology to create a medical device that will treat the debilitating disease pulmonary hypertension.

Aria CV, Inc., has licensed technology that was developed at the U of M's Medical Devices Center through its Innovation Fellows Program, a "year on steroids of product development" says Art Erdman, director of the center.

The cross-disciplinary program brings fellows with backgrounds in engineering, medicine, and biosciences together with faculty, medical professionals, and industry collaborators to develop and test ideas for new medical devices.

The yearlong program starts in the field, identifying medical needs in hospitals and on ambulance rides, says Erdman. Last year, 800 needs were narrowed to about 20 projects, which look at every aspect of medical-device development.

Some of those projects make it through to actual development; in its first three years, the Medical Devices Center has produced two startups, 35 patents, and a license agreement, according to Erdman.

Aria's two active founders--Vice President of Engineering Karl Vollmers and and CEO John Scandurra--and the other inventors were fellows in the program until last fall. Since licensing the technology Aria has filed other patents related to the device, which is in the testing and feasibility stage of development, says Vollmers.

Aria CV is a certified company with the Minnesota Angel Tax Credit and has received funding by private investors through the program, says Vollmers, who says Aria could start hiring employees next year.

Vollmers says the device will not replace the drug therapy that many pulmonary hypertension patients go through, "but we believe it will improve the life span and the quality of living considerably."

It will be years before the device is approved, first in Europe and then in the U.S., says Vollmers.

Art Erdman, U of M Medical Devices Center
Karl Vollmers, Aria CV
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

U of M researchers aim startup at carbon reduction, more efficient geo-thermal heat capture

Two University of Minnesota researchers have developed technology that solves one problem--the proliferation of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2)--to work improving another: how to more efficiently tap the heat inside the earth for geothermal energy systems.

Earth sciences faculty member Martin Saar and graduate student Jimmy Randolph have applied for a patent and plan to form a startup company to commercialize the technology, according to a press release.

The CO2-plume geothermal system (CPG) uses high-pressure CO2, rather than the conventional water, to carry the heat from deep in the earth. CO2 travels more easily through porous rock and can extract heat more readily, according to the researchers. The research was published in the most recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

The technology was "born in a flash of insight on a northern Minnesota road trip," according to the release, as the two conducted separate research on geothermal energy capture and geologic CO2 sequestration.

"We connected the dots and said, 'Wait a minute--what are the consequences if you use geothermally heated CO2?'" states Saar through the press release.

The consequences, according to Randolph, include being able to capture heat "in areas you couldn't even think about doing regular geothermal for electricity production," Randolph says in the release, stating that the technology could double efficiency in some areas.

The research was jump-started with a $600,00 grant in 2008 from the university's Institute on the Environment's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE).

The grant came from an annual pool of $5 million from Xcel Energy's Renewable Development Fund. IREE disburses a number of grants each year through a competition, says Rod Larkins, IREE's associate director.

That funding leveraged another $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, and the researchers are hoping to receive an even larger grant, says Larkins, which would require a 20 percent match, of which IREE would cover half (10 percent of the grant amount). That funding would help move the technology into the pilot phase, according to the release.

Saar called the IREE grant "really critical" in the release. "I think it's fair to say that there's a good chance that it wouldn't have gone anywhere without IREE support in the early days," he says.

Larkins says IREE's interest in funding the research stems from the fact that the technology reduces a waste stream in achieving its main objective of capturing heat for geothermal energy.

Source: Rod Larkins, Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

CaSTT rolling out commercial version of U of M tech transfer tool

"The only way that someone can come and license [technology or intellectual property] is if they know that it's there," says Darren Cox, founder and chief evangelist of Commerce and Search for Technology Transfer (CaSTT).

CaSTT is an online licensing tool that Cox developed to solve that problem for the University of Minnesota's Office for Technology Commercialization. It's working; In the past 12 months, Cox reports, the university executed more licenses online for a single item than all the other Big Ten schools did for all of their technologies combined during the year 2008.

"We built it just for our own office; we never intended any one else to use it," says Cox.

Seeing an opportunity, he spun CaSTT out of the university and hired a development team to write a new version of the software, which will debut later this month.

Cox and the U of M finalized a licensing agreement last week for the CaSTT trademark, says Cox. The U of M will receive a free license and will continue to use the upgraded software service, he said.

The commercial version facilitates licensing similarly to the original version--fully online, in some cases--but goes further into marketing, primarily through search engine optimization of technology descriptions.

Research-level communication, for example, is often very technical, "and they don't actually ever say what the thing does, and what you get when you license it," says Cox. "Part of our process is training people on how to figure out what it is people are actually searching for, and then our software takes that information and mechanically optimizes it in such a way that it is very, very easy for search engines to index that information and drive it to the top of search results."

Cox hopes the tool will expand tech transfer beyond its traditional arena to "the other seven-and-a-half billion people in the world.

"There are literally millions of pieces of intellectual property sitting on shelves at universities, national labs, research hospitals, and corporations all over the world that no one knows are available," says Cox.

A subscription to the software-as-a-service platform is $500 per month.

Cox was not able to divulge his list of potential clients, but CaSTT was close to signing a major local corporation in early April, and he said other companies and 150 universities are waiting for the debut of the new software.

Cox expects to close an equity round in June, at which time CaSTT will have been backed by $700,000 in post-university investment, for which Cox credits his connections and colleagues at tech accelerator Project Skyway.

Virteva CEO and Project Skyway mentor Tom Keiffer was CaSTT's first investor and now chairs its board. Virteva has provided development, hosting, and other infrastructure to the project, says Cox. Joy Lindsay, president and co-founder of StarTec Investments, is also an investor.

Source: Darren Cox, CaSTT
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

U of M licenses technology for noninvasive treatment of atherosclerosis

A new startup hopes to offer a safer and more effective treatment for atherosclerosis through its licensing of University of Minnesota medical technology.

Emad Ebbini, an electrical and computer engineering professor in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, led a team that developed the high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) technology, according to a U of M press release. The university says it has finalized a license agreement with startup International Cardio Corporation, who declined to comment for this article.

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which arteries become blocked by a buildup of plaque, usually treated with drugs or angioplasty.

By contrast, HIFU is a noninvasive, real-time ultrasonic imaging and localized treatment of tissue abnormalities which developers hope may have even broader applications, including the treatment of cancer.

The form of non-ionizing radiation localizes treatment to small areas (the size of a grain of rice or a sesame seed, states the release) at a much faster rate than other current systems such as MRI.

The technology links imaging and therapy by returning dynamic images that allow doctors to almost instantaneously refocus the energy at the target--an outcome that can be faster, more precise, and safer than invasive surgery or radiation therapy.

The equipment necessary for HIFU is less expensive than other imaging techniques, such as MRI, making it more accessible to doctors and less expensive for patients, says the release.

International Cardio Corporation may submit the technology to the FDA for testing later this year.

Source: University of Minnesota
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

U of M social media research spurs new cross-disclipline meet-up

Social media has given researchers of every stripe a mountain of new data to explore.

As tweets and status updates work their way into studies across the University of Minnesota campus, from computer science to environmental studies, a group of researchers have recognized a need for more cross-department pollination.

This week they'll hold the first monthly gathering of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Group in Social Computing. Organizers have put the call out to researchers across the university who are exploring social media and its impact on society.

"This is our first rattling of the bushes to see who shows up and it should be pretty interesting," says Nora Paul, director of the SJMC Minnesota Journalism Center.

So far, potential participants include students, staff, and faculty from the English department, computer science, journalism, writing studies, public health, mathematics, environmental studies, youth development, and Spanish/Portuguese studies.

The kick-off event will consist of a round of introductions. Participants are asked to bring a single PowerPoint slide and a short description of their work related to social media. After that, monthly meetings will likely revolve around a speaker from outside the University.

The group is particularly aimed at graduate students, but Paul says they want to have the events open to the community as well, with a goal of spurring collaboration not just across departments but also with people outside the University.

The meet-and-greet kick-off event is 4-6pm Thursday, Jan. 27, in the Digital Technology Center Auditorium, room 402 in Walter Library.

Source: Nora Paul, SJMC Minnesota Journalism Center
Writer: Dan Haugen

Sen. Klobuchar touts agenda to help America regain innovation edge

Sen. Amy Klobuchar outlined a national innovation agenda last week at an Innovation Summit at the University of Minnesota.

Klobuchar shared the stage at the Mayo Auditorium with Carlson Companies' chairman Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Medtronic CEO William Hawkins, and University research vice president Tim Mulcahy, among others.

"Innovation has always been a catalyzing force in the American economy," Klobuchar said.  "In recent years, however, the country has fallen behind in its efforts to research, develop, and compete in the global economy. We are resting on our laurels at a time when other countries, including China and India, are moving full-steam ahead."

Her strategy to help America regain its innovation edge consists of a series of targeted tax breaks and regulatory reforms, as well as a longer-term focus on improving science, technology, engineering, and math education.

Klobuchar has been collaborating on the legislation with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, who also spoke at the event. Warner said too much brain power was wasted building a "financial house of cards," and that the country needs fewer financial engineers and more "real engineers."

Other speakers noted Minnesota's struggle converting basic research into commercial products, as well as efforts for the University of Minnesota to work more closely with private companies in the state.

Klobuchar is on the Senate Commerce Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on Innovation, Competitiveness, and Export Promotion.

Source: Sen. Amy Klobuchar Innovation Summit
Writer: Dan Haugen

Dialogue Earth crowdsources creativity with online science video contest

A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on, according to an old proverb. And that was before Twitter and other social networks wired the world.

That's the challenge a St. Paul nonprofit media project is grappling with: how to help the facts around important environmental topics catch up with all of the misinformation that can spread so easily and quickly online these days.

Dialogue Earth is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment and the Foundation for Environmental Research. This week it announced the completion of a pilot project involving a crowdsourced video contest.

The mission is to find ways to inject timely, trustworthy information into the public debate on environmental issues, without advocating for any particular action or solution.

Its recent video project demonstrates one way in which that goal might be accomplished. Dialogue Earth sponsored a video contest in which all entries had to incorporate information from a list of 12 objective facts about ocean acidification. The other rule: videos couldn't make any specific call to action.

"The only thing we're advocates for is getting good information out," says Dialogue Earth founder Kent Cavender-Bares.

First, participants made short pitches for their ideas. Seven concepts were chosen, after which participants were invited to create 90-second videos based on one of the winning concepts.

The result: a collection of creative, factual videos, ranging from a cartoon starring a snail reggae band to a black-and-white public service announcement parody. The idea is to build a collection of videos that can educate, rather than polarize.

"In order for media to be consumed, we feel that if it's science-based, ultimately it's got to be trustworthy. We also realize it's got to be engaging," says Cavender-Bares.

It also needs to be relevant. The next phase will involve finding ways to produce videos more quickly so that they can be released while a topic is still timely. This contest lasted six weeks, an aeon in Internet attention span.

Dialogue Earth is also preparing to launch a social media/public opinion analysis tool in early 2011 called Pulse, which will seek to track what environmental topics people are talking about. That data could then be used to plan topics for future videos.

Source: Kent Cavender-Bares, Dialogue Earth
Writer: Dan Haugen

Sen. Franken: "Green chemistry is the way forward."

Minnesota has an economic opportunity ahead of it in designing, developing and implementing less harmful chemical products.

That's the message of the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum, which hosted a conference January 7 at the University of Minnesota covering topics from public health to environmental marketing.

Green chemistry is a term to describe the production of non-toxic or less toxic chemical products. Examples include plastics made with plant material instead of petroleum compounds.

"Green chemistry is the way forward," said Sen. Al Franken, one of several policy-making officials who spoke at the conference. He said Minnesota companies are already proving that we can create safer, healthier products without sacrificing quality.

One example: Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day, whose CEO Kevin Rutherford spoke earlier in the afternoon about the company's environmental philosophy.

"We really like to uncomplicate things," Rutherford said.

The company employs about 50 people in downtown Minneapolis, and it's managed to grow despite the economy, and the fact that it makes a premium-priced product.

Environmental marketing consultant Georgean Adams, a former 3M employee, spoke about the challenges of green marketing, including confusion about definitions and standards. Worldwide, more than 370 green-marketing logos are currently in use.

Bethany Drake, an environmental scientist with Green Seal, spoke about how its certification requirements evolve. It's designed so that no more than 20 percent of products in a certain category can qualify. So as certain green practices become industry standards, the bar is raised.

Members of the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum include: Activeion, Aveda Corporation, Eureka Recycling, Segetis, and Tennant Company.

Source: Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum
Writer: Dan Haugen

Green chemistry forum to spotlight Minnesota's current and future role in field

Minnesota is sprouting a green chemistry industry, and a forum at the University of Minnesota this week aims to fertilize it.

The Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum will host a conference on Friday, Jan. 7, called Adding Value Through Green Chemistry.

The event will feature speakers from 3M, Aveda, Ecolab, Segetis, Mrs. Meyers Clean Day--all companies that are using or developing products made with materials that reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous chemical substances.

"We're looking at this as a chance to profile what's going on in the state of Minnesota," says Tim Welle, renewable energy program manager for the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota, a member of the Green Chemistry Forum.

Minnesota is at the forefront of the young green chemistry industry. It has academic and private sector expertise, with several companies already producing products made from green chemistry, many of which utilize plant materials as an alternative to petroleum-based chemicals.

The state has the potential to become an leader in the field because it has the expertise as well as the natural resources to support an industry, such as forestry and agriculture products.

The goal of the forum, says Welle, is to showcase what's happening today, as well as to get people thinking about the potential applications and long-term opportunities in Minnesota.

Source: Tim Welle, BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota
Writer: Dan Haugen
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