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Entrepreneurship : Innovation + Job News

389 Entrepreneurship Articles | Page: | Show All

Simple idea fuels entrepreneur's FinderCodes

Sometimes, business ideas come from unlikely places. For Blake Sohn, entrepreneurship started with a lost dog.
In the midst of the family's move to a new house, Sohn's dog, Emma, got free. Emma's ID tags had a previous address, as well as an older phone number, so Sohn considers himself lucky that he and Emma were quickly reunited. The seemingly minor event sparked an idea, however.
"I'd been interested in QR codes for some time, and I thought there had to be a way to use this platform for dynamic data in a new way," he says.
After developing prototype, Sohn founded FinderCodes, a company that creates durable ID tags for animals as well as stickers for possessions like electronics, backpacks, tools, and anything else that needs protection. The tags can be affixed to nearly anything, from a well-loved leather jacket to a kid's hockey stick.
If the item is lost, someone with a smartphone can scan the QR code to find the owner.
The company recently scored a big win: FinderCodes Lost and Found Kits were awarded a top innovation prize at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a major event for the electronics industry.
"I'm still stunned that we won it; it put us on a rocketship ride," Sohn says. The company is likely to keep zooming forward on that momentum with a new software upgrade, and future hiring. Right now, the company has 12 employees, and Sohn is looking toward worldwide opportunities and partnerships in Asia, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Already, the company has relationships with FedEx and AT&T. Sohn says, "The goal is just to help people manage their favorite things."
Source: Blake Sohn, FinderCodes
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Exhibit Hall Earth acts as virtual conference content center

Conferences can be rich sources of networking, innovation, education, and sales leads, but those opportunities tend to end when the speakers and the trade show exhibitors begin packing up to leave.
One local entrepreneur wants to keep the energy going.
Michael Lunser, who acts as a project manager for conference content capture firm OrganicVoices, felt that all of the education and connection that occurs at conferences could be put to greater use, and also reach a wider audience, if they could be transferred to an online format.
The result is Exhibit Hall Earth, a startup project that Lunser is rolling out for organic agriculture conferences initially, but which has potential for all types of conferences.
"The traditional model for content capture is to record speakers and then try to sell the materials to attendees," he says. "But that model is starting to wear out; people aren't as interested in buying a pack of CDs anymore."
He envisioned a system where content could be included as part of a registration cost, with all the sessions and workshops online for easier access. Since the exhibit hall would be online and accessible, it could also host articles posted by users, publish classified ads and job listings, and become robust with other content. Lunser has even created a cookbook on the site so that attendees can swap recipes.
"Instead of a couple days networking and learning about topics, you could get exposure to so much more in a virtual exhibit hall," he says. "For conferences, it would allow them to have a presence on a yearly, ongoing basis. Everyone benefits."
Lunser is still fine-tuning the site, but is optimistic about making the model into a must-visit destination for conference attendees.
Source: Michael Lunser, Exhibit Hall Earth
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Auto repair estimating tool RoadTab expands to more cities

Launched last year, RoadTab is gaining speed. The online matchmaking app between auto owners and repair shops began in the Twin Cities, but now offers options for users in Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Seattle.
The service's growth isn't a surprise, notes founder Jacob Phillips. "People are responding to the way the system works, and really liking the way they can get estimates online, instead of taking their vehicles to different shops."
RoadTab allows users to input the type of work they need performed, and to receive estimates via email. Based in Chanhassen, the service got its start when Phillips reflected on his experiences owning a small car dealership. Constantly on the phone to auto repair shops, he sought a tool that would streamline the process. When he couldn't find one, he decided to build his own, with the help of web and mobile development firm Tiny Mission.
The app is free for users, and mechanics pay a yearly membership fee. Phillips has refined the tool so that requests don't get sent out to every mechanic in the system. For example, if a car owner needs repair on a cracked windshield, only specialists in auto glass repair will get the query.
One sticking point is that it can be difficult for mechanics to give estimates for cars they haven't examined, but despite that challenge, the service seems to be picking up more mechanics and site users on a regular basis.
Phillips anticipates that the service will begin rolling out to more cities in the future. Next up is probably Chicago, he believes. "We can see this being nationwide," he says. "It's picking up momentum as it goes."
Source: Jacob Phillips, RoadTab
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Fixity focuses on grassroots marketing

It all started with a lampshade.
When Katherine Hayes was visiting her grandparents in 2010, she noticed stains on a lampshade, and decided to spend some time with bleach and a bucket rather than making a run to the store to buy a new one.
A finance professional, she'd been contemplating a career switch, and somehow, that seemingly minor moment of home maintenance clicked for her. "I love to repair things, put them back in order," she says. "I've always been a tinkerer, and in some ways, it's a reaction against our disposable consumerism. It feels like people don't fix things anymore, they just replace them."
That line of thinking has led Hayes to start Fixity, a service specializing in the small aspects of a home that could use adjustment. From tailoring curtains to mending jewelry to righting a wobbly chair leg, Hayes embraces the long list of to-do items that many people usually avoid. She's repaired a zipper on a travel bag, re-woven small holes in sweaters, assembled IKEA furniture (a talent in itself), and patched holes in upholstery, among numerous other tasks.
To get the business going, she's been relying on grassroots marketing efforts, which involve traditional referrals and social media. Hayes believes that her service is unique, because as a former art major, she utilizes creative solutions that some handyman-type services might skip. For example, she once sewed a round pillow to cover an oddly shaped window in a client's attic space.
"A handyman isn't going to be sewing pillows," Hayes says. "But if that's what you need, and you can't sew it yourself, now there's Fixity." 
Source: Katherine Hayes, Fixity
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

January events: Collaborative Innovation, Healthy Life, Technically Speaking, Leadership Challenge

The Collaborative Innovation Series
January 10
Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey Institute
301 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis
7:45am - 10:25am
Maybe your resolution for 2013 is to put together a great board of directors. If that's the case, you're in luck: The Collaborative presents a morning of insight about how to create, develop, and effectively utilize a board.
Healthy Life Expo
January 12
Minneapolis Convention Center
10am - 5pm
$6 or free with donation to food shelf
This annual expo has been increasing in popularity every year, and this round offers up to 200 exhibitors, three stages of speaker presentations, product samples, free health advice, and plenty of information on wellness, nutrition, and fitness.
Technically Speaking: Leading with Emotional Intelligence
January 17
University of Minnesota
McNamara Alumni Center
5:30pm - 6:30pm
free, but must pre-register
The Technological Leadership Institute (TLI) at the U of M continues its new speaker series with this presentation about emotional intelligence, led by TLI's Kirk Froggatt. Geared toward leaders within organizations, the talk looks at the impact and practice of emotional intelligence as a way to boost leadership qualities.
Leadership Challenge Conference
January 24
St. Catherine University
Rauenhorst Ballroom
8am - 3:45pm
The Leadership Challenge conference brings together professional women from a range of settings, including government, education, nonprofit, and small business sectors. Now in its 16th year, the event is a day of education and discussion focusing on leadership, with interactive workshops and networking opportunities. 

Stuffdot rewards users for shopping recommendations

Let's say you've been looking for the perfect pair of boots for the last few months — classic but fashion-forward, dressy but office-appropriate — and finally, you find them and put a photo up on social media to show off your prize. How would it feel if a group of your friends then dashed out to buy the exact same boots?
More interestingly, would that feeling change if you got a "reward" every time a pair got purchased based on your recommendation?
It's the answer to the second question that drove the creation of StuffDOT, an online platform that allows users to post items like books, movies, clothes, and housewares, and then earn rewards if those postings lead to purchases by others.
Created by AOI Marketing, a Minneapolis-based loyalty marketing firm, StuffDOT is still in beta testing, but is likely to be widely released soon, according to Amanda Axvig, the company's vice president of marketing.
"Basically, it's just a smarter way to share," she says. "It rewards users for sharing what they like."
Like other referral programs, StuffDOT compensates users through a point system than can be redeemed for cash or gift cards from retailers like Target and Amazon.com, or even Punch Pizza. In look, the site is similar to Pinterest, but tying posts to rewards makes it even more compelling than those types of "inspiration sites," Axvig says.
Currently, StuffDOT is working with over 18,000 retailers, and Axvig notes that nearly every prominent online retailer has signed on as a partner. With that kind of beta, it's likely that the site's popularity (and AOI Marketing's staff numbers) will continue to grow.
Source: Amanda Axvig, AOI Marketing
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Referral Buzz builds growth through new features

For professionals like electricians, plumbers, and builders, referrals are a rich source of marketing. But harnessing this type of business driver is usually done on a casual basis, and often isn't viewed strategically. That's where Referral Buzz comes in.
Co-founder and president Lisa Schneegans and her partner Klaus Schneegans started the company in 2010 after renovating a number of older houses, and talking to contractors along the way. They discovered that the contractors relied heavily on referrals but didn't have a method for making the most of the referral system.
At the beginning of 2012, the service had about 100 contractors, and over the past year, Referral Buzz has steadily built up its reputation and developed new tools that allow small businesses to automate the entire customer life cycle, from lead generation to maintaining contact with past customers. Schneegans says, "These type of automatic tools help businesses during the 'hidden sales cycle.'"
Consumers benefit as well, since the service is a free, easy way to find contractors and others who have earned recommendations.
In 2013, Referral Buzz will get a major boost by becoming a partner of Trulia, an online marketplace for home buyers, sellers, renters, and real estate professionals. Schneegans notes that the arrangement will provide a huge benefit to the company's customers thanks to greater exposure, which will continue to drive growth for Referral Buzz.
The company has also added several features to its service, including an online digital portfolio where home improvement professionals can share photos of their work. Also new is an automatic synch between Referral Buzz and a contractor's Facebook page, and a mobile app is due to launch next year as well.
Source: Lisa Schneegans, Referral Buzz
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

W3i technologist releases tool for sifting through social media feeds

Social media can be a boon for keeping up with personal and business information, but given the number of tools available, feeds can also be a major time sink. That's why entrepreneur Shivani Khanna developed dasBoom, a data visualization application that helps users cut down on the noise and focus on what's important in a feed rather than what's simply new.
Khanna's venture is exactly the type of "intrapreneur" strategy that's often encouraged at tech firm W3i, where Khanna has acted as a software development manager before taking on her own projects. The company fosters incubator projects like these in order to encourage creativity and development growth.
Given its strong start, and large market potential, it's likely that dasBoom is ready to, well, boom. "With the enormous volume of information being generated on social networks, there's a critical need to make sense of all this connected knowledge," Khanna notes. With the tool, users will be able to make more intelligent decisions, she adds.
The application allows users to visualize information from their data feeds, and then organize and filter that content. For example, the app will show which friends have posted in the last few hours, and the user can choose how people should be ranked in terms of importance. Also, the app will show the popularity of those posts so that the user can get a quick glimpse of the amount of buzz being generated.
This strategy gives users the ability to focus on content that's most relevant to them, rather than wading through posts containing game requests or shared articles and photos.
Khanna notes that the app is unique compared to other applications that curate social content, because it doesn't create assumptions about what's important. Instead, it lets users decide what to filter out and what to keep. The app is currently for Facebook, but she anticipates that Twitter and LinkedIn will be covered in the near future.
Source: Shivani Khanna, dasBoom
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

HopeFULL expands product line, eyes larger distribution

By now, the bright blue bags of The HopeFULL Company are recognizable, even nestled in the shelves of a co-op. The founders of HopeFULL, though, want to boost that recognition even more.
As noted in previous Line coverage, the company was started by sisters Stephanie Williams and Jessica Welch, as a way to help patients in chemotherapy increase their nutrient intake. The sisters created small, easily transported kits that contain a neoprene bag, silicone molds for making frozen "pops," and Popsicle-type sticks that double as spoons.
Since founding the business a couple years ago, HopeFULL has been steadily growing to expand its product line and distribution. The company recently launched The BellyFULL Kit, inspired by a desire to introduce whole foods to young children.
HopeFULL has also found a larger audience as it gains traction. In addition to helping chemo patients, the kits are being used for any condition in which loss of appetite can be a factor, including gastric bypass surgery, lupus, and even strep throat.
Looking ahead, the company anticipates moving into more wholesale sales to supplement its thriving co-op and natural health care center placement, according to Williams.
"We're moving into the next phase," she says. "We see some strong opportunities in several different places and markets, so we're gearing up for the next stage of growth."
If the sisters succeed, it's likely that those bright blue HopeFULL bags and jaunty BellyFULL junior chefs hats will be coming to a store near you in the year ahead.
Source: Stephanie Williams, HopeFULL Company
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

TST Media plans growth thanks to strategic funding

Started in a dorm room in 2005, Minneapolis-based TST Media is growing steadily, and attracting strong investment interest along the way.
Last year, the maker of website-management applications for sports leagues closed on a $3.5 million round of financing with El Dorado Ventures. Although the company hasn't commented yet on its most recent funding round, regulatory filing reports note that it raised an additional $3.3 million in capital.
Going along with that funding is hiring, and the company continues to add employees in areas like sales, marketing development, and design. In addition to regularly promoting job openings on Twitter, company representatives also attend college career conferences and encourage employees to refer contacts from their networks.
"We have a product designed for explosive growth," says TST Media co-founder Carson Kipfer. "We have aggressive hiring goals that will keep us on that growth track."
Over the past year, TST Media has seen several wins in client acquisitions, including the Lake Placid Summit Classic lacrosse tournament, and it has crafted innovations to its main product. Its "Sport Ngin Mobile" app is used by sports teams and leagues in all U.S. states, across Canada, and in Europe and Asia as a way for teams to connect with fans via scores, stats, schedules, and other content.
"Once someone sees the capability of what we provide, it spiders out from there," says Kipfer. "Other teams and organizations want the platform, too, and that just fuels our success."
Source: Carson Kipfer, TST Media
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Keyhubs grows through new client projects

As it turns out, being able to pinpoint influential people within an organization is an in-demand talent.
That's the experience of Vikas Narula, founder of Minneapolis-based Keyhubs, a startup that focuses on how connections within an enterprise can affect everything from productivity to executive development.
Narula first had the idea for the company while in business school at Duke University. A professor did an experiment about corporate social networks, and Narula was fascinated (for more on Keyhubs' beginnings, see our previous coverage here).
After nearly three years since founding the company, Narula is seeing strong growth as the concept is embraced by clients looking for more strategic ways to understand their enterprises.
In the past past year, the company was featured in Forbes, and Narula was listed as one of the 100 Twin Cities leaders to watch by Twin Cities Business magazine. New client engagements include Medtronic, Liberty Diversified International, and a Silicon Valley technology company called Responsys.
Buzz is growing, Narula notes, and that's driving more interest in the distinctive services that Keyhubs offers. Although there are management consulting firms that look at org charts, Keyhubs seems to be the only firm that can give deep insight into how employees interconnect on an informal basis -- information that could be crucial to talent development.
Narula feels that the future looks bright as well. "In 2013, we're looking to deepen relationships with our existing clients and bring on new ones with thoughtful care and consideration," he says.
Source: Vikas Narula, Keyhubs
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Alignamite develops employee-centric performance tools

Employee performance reviews: the three little words that no one likes to hear.
"Almost universally, it's been a process filled with dread," says J. Forrest, founder and president of Minneapolis-based technology company Alignamite. "Who looks forward to performance reviews, even if they're largely positive?"
Forrest wanted a better strategy, so he built one. Alignamite's new software tool is designed to create alignment between an enterprise's goals and an employee's success. With a dashboard that tracks employee performance and a system that brings in colleague opinions as well as management views, Alignamite looks like it could change how performance is measured.
Founded in 2011, Alignamite got started when Forrest decided to quit building performance tools for other companies and start his own enterprise instead. He envisioned a system that would be more employee-centric, where staff members could get a grasp of their performance on a continual basis and an ongoing sense of how well they were meeting company goals, rather than relying on annual performance reviews.
After completing a beta testing period, Alignamite recently launched a robust, full version and is already seeing strong growth, particularly with clients of about 50 to 200 employees.
"There's great scalability in the tool, so that makes it exciting for organizations," says Forrest. "Most important, though, is that it significantly improves communication within an enterprise, and that benefits everyone."
Source: J. Forrest, Alignamite
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Morphology game maker sees growth past the holidays

In 2009, Kate Ryan Reiling and some friends were waiting out a snowstorm in an Uptown apartment, and they quickly became bored by their game selections. That's when the fun really started.
The group put together flat glass beads, Jenga pieces, string, and a dictionary. One person would choose a word, then try to depict it using the game components. Although it was a simple way to pass the time, Reiling was struck by the level of creativity and enjoyment that emerged, and she used her business school background to turn a fun afternoon into a full-time avocation.
Using pieces she first cobbled together from surplus stores, Reiling created Morphology, a game that lets players "morph" wooden sticks, cubes, glass beads, little wooden people, and other elements into a representation of certain words.
When Reiling brought a prototype to a major toy and game show in 2010, she knew she had a winner. She sold 400 games on the spot, and later that year began landing on lists like Time magazine's Toys of the Year. She says, "I began to get emails from around the world asking about the game. It's been really amazing to see the momentum and watch this catch on."
Reiling created a version for kids called Morphology Jr., and her ultimate goal is for Morphology Games to be acquired by one of the major game companies. Until that happens, though, she'll work on getting the game in more stores and expanding distribution. With so much buzz building in this holiday season, she's expecting strong growth in the next month and beyond.
"We see a real opportunity to keep expanding this and designing more games that encourage creativity, and maybe even move into the digital tablet space," she says.  
Source: Kate Ryan Reiling, Morphology Games
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

December events: Lean Startup, Women in the Boardroom, Cloud Automation, No Coast Craft-O-Rama

The Lean Startup Conference
December 3
University of Minnesota
Carlson School of Management
11am - 7pm
Those who aren't able to attend The Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco can still see great speakers, thanks to this simulcast event that showcases the conference's experts. Presented by the university's Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship and the Minnesota Lean Startup Circle, the event will help attendees jumpstart their businesses.
Women in the Boardroom
December 4
University of St. Thomas
Law School Atrium, 11th St. and Harmon Place, Minneapolis
3pm - 6pm
An organization designed to assist women in pursuing board service, Women in the Boardroom hosts several types of in-person and virtual events throughout the year. This signature event brings together a panel of experts, including the Chief Administrative Officer of the Mayo Clinic.
Automation for the Cloud
December 5
Open Book
1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
4pm - 5:30pm
Hosted by cloud management company enStratus, this event looks at extending automation to cloud environments, including auto-provisioning, auto-scaling, and setting automated backups. Attendees will learn more about cloud management and see a product demo.
No Coast Craft-O-Rama
December 7 & 8
Midtown Global Market
3pm - 8pm on Dec. 7; 9am - 5pm on Dec. 8
Started in 2005 as a way to feature designers, artists, and creators of handmade crafts, the No Coast Craft-O-Rama has grown into a true showcase for artisans of every type. From letterpress operators to knitters to jewelry makers to many others, the breadth of work is staggering--and the fair is showing up just in time for holiday shopping, too.

Tekne award winners show breadth of local tech scene

Highlighting technology leaders in the state, the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) announced winners for the 2012 Tekne Awards, handing out top honors to companies like MakeMusic, ReconRobotics, JAMF Software.
The award program, now in its 13th year, recognizes innovations from 2011 that impact the lives of Minnesotans, through lifestyle improvement or education. Forty-four finalists were named in fifteen categories. Winners were unveiled at a special event on November 1st.
According to MHTA president Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the awards draw attention to the breadth of innovative and competitive technology companies in the state. Greater awareness of the efforts being done here will boost Minnesota's stature as a "silicon prairie" where tech companies can thrive.
Fifteen winners show the range of businesses here, and the list includes both large companies like Seagate Technology (winner in the advanced manufacturing category) and smaller companies like Code 42 Software and SparkWeave.
Other winners included  PeopleNet, Agosto, GiveMN, OrthoCor Medical, Starkey Hearing Technologies, Imation, and The University of Minnesota Rochester.
In addition to showcasing the work of technology-fueled businesses, the awards also honored seven individuals who provided leadership to advance technology and innovation in Minnesota, particularly in state government. The public officials led the effort to consolidate IT services from more than 70 state agencies into a single organization called MN.IT Services.
Speaking about all of the awards, Kelliher says, "This year's recipients, once again, raised the bar with the quality and originality of their entries and should be very proud of their accomplishments."
Source: Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minnesota High Tech Association
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
389 Entrepreneurship Articles | Page: | Show All
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