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Website launched for local food resources

A new website, Community and Local Food Resources, is aimed at assisting rural community food systems and development. Sparked by a tri-state collaboration, the site's mission is to improve local food resources, no matter where people might live in the upper Midwest.
"Farmers and community members can face a variety of unique struggles and opportunities when working to develop strong local food systems," says Greg Schweser, Community Food Systems Planner at the University of Minnesota's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. "We worked with rural communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota to find out what those issues were and addressed them as best we could in this website."
The university collaborated with North Dakota State University Extension Service, Buy Fresh Buy Local South Dakota, and non-profit organization FARRMS to craft a site that will be useful for those working in local food systems. Topics include production, marketing tactics, business advice, sourcing options, education, and public policy.
The site comes at a crucial time, as community support for the farm-to-fork movement is growing. By providing online resources to rural communities, the site's developers hope to connect farmers with local organizations and also assist consumers who might be searching for affordable farmers market options or looking to start a community garden.
"While there is a wealth of information online to help those working on local foods, this website combines and organizes hundreds of resources into one easy-to-use interface," says Schweser.
As food systems change over time and community food strategies develop, the site's developers hope that people will forward new resources so the site can be kept up to date. Schweser is confident that the website can be a major force for change, and a central point for those aiming for stronger, community-based food systems.
Source: Greg Schweser, University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Tekne Awards offer new categories for this year's round

Minnesota technology leaders, start your engines.
The high-profile Tekne Awards just opened for entries, and five new categories have been added: STEM education and digital learning, healthcare delivery, impact on industry, agricultural technology, and safety and security.
Innovative entrepreneurs, organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies will all compete in the award program, now in its 14th year, presented by the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA).
The state remains at the forefront of cutting-edge technological growth, the MHTA noted, and the robust and growing competition highlights the kind of innovation that's homegrown here, from cleantech to robotics.
Last year, winners included Nova-Tech Engineering, Ecolab, Global Traffic Technologies, Maverick Software Consulting, and Sophia Learning. The City of Minneapolis also received an award, for technology excellence in a non-profit organization, getting a nod for an emergency operations training facility that blends digital data and streaming video.
This year, the five fresh categories showcase new directions in the state's approach to innovation. STEM education, a hot topic these days, gets its own category for programs that engage K-12 students in applied learning opportunities. Healthcare delivery will award innovation in the area of medical devices, diagnostics, data management, and other areas that improve patient care.
"We are watching significant growth in the areas of mobility as well as safety and security and want to make sure the Tekne Awards reflect that," says Andrew Wittenborg, Director of Outreach for MHTA. "At the same time,  we want to recognize and support the collaborative efforts that lead to Minnesota breakthroughs."
In addition to its new categories, the awards will feature well-established, competition-rich categories like software, startup, advanced manufacturing, and mobile technologies.
Applications for this year's awards will be open until July 15th, and there's no application fee, nor do applicants have to be MHTA members. Finalists will be announced in September, with an award celebration held in November.
Source: Andrew Wittenborg, Director of Outreach, Minnesota High Tech Association
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Totally Interactive Weather unveils innovative online ad platform

The heat begins to spike in the middle of summer, and suddenly the online ads you see promise thirst-quenching drinks, air conditioning systems, and convertible cars. Coincidence? Far from it: local firm Totally Interactive Weather, helmed by well-known meteorologist Dave Dahl and his son, Andy Dahl, is pioneering an ad platform that utilizes weather information to shape an advertiser's message.
Started in 2007, and often referred to as TiWi, the company was formed as a way to bring more weather information online, and disseminate it to other media properties. But the startup began at a difficult economic time, says Andy Dahl, and some lean years of trying to sell subscription content convinced the founders that they needed a stronger model.
"We began thinking of ways to go toward an advertising revenue model," he says. "Essentially, we were providing weather content for free, and attaching advertising to that content to monetize in that space."
That led to the debut of a technology called Trigger X, connecting weather data with advertising to make online ads more relevant and timely, Dahl says. The new platform provides in-the-moment ad messages based on changing weather patterns. For example, if someone is reading the Denver Post online and snow is moving into the area, Trigger X will prompt advertising that might include last-minute skiing specials, or snow shoveling service offers.
The platform went through beta testing in February, and just launched officially in May. TiWi is working to partner with ad agencies and media companies, and Dahl is confident that growth is as imminent as, well, the next big heat wave.
Source: Andy Dahl, Totally Interactive Weather
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Entrepreneur starts mode-sty.com to offer modest clothing

When attorney Zahra Aljabri went shopping for clothes, she was often disheartened by the lack of conservative-yet-stylish options. "I've always been a modest dresser, and it's been a struggle to find clothing that has some style and yet isn't revealing." When she began talking to friends about her experiences, she discovered that she wasn't alone--and as many entrepreneurs know, where there's struggle, there's opportunity.
Last July, she and her husband, James Faghmous, began working on Mode-sty, an online clothing boutique that meets the need for conservative clothing that looks good and is affordably priced. Aljabri found that by working with small-scale designers who crafted each item by hand, she could provide a range of clothing options for others who prefer more modest fashions.
Although Aljabri is Muslim, she sees the Mode-sty site as a resource that will appeal to numerous religious and cultural groups. "There are many religious communities where women want more coverage, like Muslims, Jewish women, and Christian groups, like Mormons," she says. "But then, there are also women who want to dress conservatively just because it seems more professional, or because they're getting older and they see this style as more age-appropriate."
At first, Aljabri utilized a "pop-up" model for the site, which meant the site would go live for only two weeks at a time until all inventory was sold, then it closed until Aljabri could re-stock. But with increasing attention and customer loyalty, the site is now up continuously, and she's thinking of her next move.
"We've realized that we need to produce our own clothing line, so we're working on that, and we also want this to be a destination site, where women can talk about different issues," says Aljabri. 

Source: Zahra Aljabri, Mode-sty
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Ingle Marketing focuses on food, ramps up social media campaigns

Sustainable food, farm-to-table, artisan products: there's no doubt that the food world is changing rapidly, and as it does, Ingle Marketing is picking up clients along the way.
Founded by entrepreneur and marketer Jodi Ingle about seven years ago, the firm draws on Ingle's experience working on foodservice accounts at several advertising agencies. That industry is unique, she notes, because unlike retail, which has a set of measurable metrics, foodservice presents a distinct B2B niche that can be tricky to navigate.
She's drawn to the industry because she simply appreciates food, she says: "Really, I love everything about it, from growing to cooking to grocery shopping. A big goal for me is to be the go-to agency partner for food companies, in terms of branding, marketing strategy, and creative development."
Ingle seems to be reaching that goal nicely, with a roster of clients that include a fresh fish purveyor, a creator of wine jelly, and a developer of "foaming sauce," among others. Although Ingle Marketing is a one-person company at present, Ingle draws on a wide array of contractors, freelancers, and branding experts to put specialized teams together for every project.
Social media is a booming field for her, she notes, and more clients are asking for campaigns that incorporate blogging and other online, interactive communication.
No matter what the medium, though, Ingle is ready to prepare the message. "Each brand has its own flavor," she says, "and our menu is full of new creations."
Source: Jodi Ingle, Ingle Marketing
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Startup DIY site HouseTalent developing photo app

When Drew Geraets and his wife moved back to the Twin Cities from New York in 2010, they bought a 1908 charmer in St. Paul. Like so many older homes in the area, the house had plenty of character, but also boasted a lengthy to-do list of improvements. It also had a distinctive feature: a book of photographs from the previous owner, showing the work that had already been done.
"I got a history of the place, and it was so striking to see how it had changed," Geraets says. "Because of that, I started to notice how often people posted their projects online, in blogs and on Facebook or Instagram. There are a ton of DIYers documenting projects from start to finish."
Although a somewhat popular site, Houzz, tries to collect these kind of efforts, Geraets envisioned a more user-friendly site for DIYers, and eventually, a mobile app. Along with a fellow entrepreneur, Ryan Cavis, he launched HouseTalent, a site that allows users to upload photos, create project sites, and browse other projects.
Currently, the founders are working on an iOS app that will make it easy for users to take photos with smartphones and upload to the site. The app should be ready by the end of June.
HouseTalent is seeing a steady increase in users as word gets out (and the spring renovation momentum takes hold), and Geraets anticipates that the next step will be developing a revenue model that could take the form of premium content. Right now, just like his house, everything is a fun work in progress.
Source: Drew Geraets, HouseTalent
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Mobile tools drive growth at Leviathan Technology Group

As communication and information increasingly go mobile, Leviathan Technology Group is seeing the benefits.
The Minneapolis-based technology services firm is finding significant growth in interest for mobile tools, as well as new methods for pushing content to users. That shift is creating strong expansion opportunities for the firm, propelling it beyond its initial healthcare specialization and into many other industries.
Founded about nine years ago by entrepreneur Steve Engels, the company first focused on software development and product design for health-related nonprofits, helping them build content tools online. Since then, the firm has grown into a developer of mobile tools and web applications, and Engels sees a wealth of opportunity ahead.
One secret to the company's success is local hiring combined with expert contractors in Russia and Ukraine, he notes. Leviathan's system of connecting consultants from all over the world has allowed the small local team of 10 to be more agile, according to Engels, and integrate mobile technology in a creative way.
At this point, he's now trying to anticipate the next big thing. "When it comes to the future, we'll be pushing more, trying to find the cutting edge," he says. "We're seeing strong growth in mobile, but we have to think about what's after that. We need to be experts by the time technology hits the mainstream."
Source: Steve Engels, Leviathan Technology Group
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

KNOCK looks toward global customers for expansion

Successful creative agency KNOCK is likely to find even more open doors in its future, with expansion of its brand strategy, advertising, and design services to global clients.
The agency's CEO, Lili Hall--quoted in our lead feature this week--has been zipping around the world in the past six months, and just completed a Master's degree in international practice management. She's in talks with business connections in countries like Saudi Arabia and India, and she anticipates much more global work coming to KNOCK in the near future.
"Global is really becoming our focus," she says. "We have a great partner who's consulting with us about cultural relevance, and we feel very connected to global networks in a new way."
Hall founded the company in 2001, just a few months after 9/11, and she admits the timing was challenging. Without a business plan, and in a tricky economic climate, KNOCK might have faltered if it hadn't been for Hall's passionate belief in creating an agency based on the right way to treat colleagues and clients.
"When I started the company, I reflected on the attributes of people I admired and respected," she says. "But I also thought about the situations I'd seen that were negative. I created a list of 'how to never treat people,' and in many ways, that's become a major part of our philosophy."
For example, KNOCK stands apart for blending creatives with account professionals, which is an unusual arrangement for an agency. Those two "sides" tend to do battle, but Hall saw the power of collaboration from the start, and has shown that blending those viewpoints creates more strength for clients. In other words, when thinking about how never to treat people, the first lesson is: don't make your colleagues into enemies, just because of their job titles.
Hall also credits transparency, a proactive approach, and internal entrepreneurial energy for driving growth throughout KNOCK.
Source: Lili Hall, KNOCK
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Grocery Shopping Network sees more hiring, digital marketing success ahead

Most consumers haven't heard of Grocery Shopping Network (GSN), but it's likely that nearly everyone has seen the company's work. The Minneapolis-based firm creates digital tools for grocery retailers and packaged goods manufacturers, resulting in a wealth of online and in-store promotions.
With the surge in digital marketing efforts and greater interest in food and cooking, GSN, currently on a roll of hiring and expansion, is likely to have even broader reach in the near future. The company's distinctive analytics capability is leading sales on a national level, promising to expand GSN's market reach, according to company spokesperson Albin Andolshek.
"We’ve built a great deal of strength on the regional level, and now we’re seeing more national campaigns emerge," he says. "With the new digital shopper marketing tools we have access to, our clients have access to unlimited reach."
Started in 1996 as a website developer for the grocery industry, GSN has been beefing up its offerings ever since. The company added e-grocery.com in the late 90s, then brought in software that let clients add recipes and online coupons to the mix.
GSN still offers end-to-end solutions for websites, but it also integrates online display advertising into its services. Both areas of the company are growing, and attracting partnerships with sites that focus on grocery shopping, coupons, deals, and cooking.
Part of the unique digital marketing that GSN provides is deep integration with digital marketing resources. For example, if a grocer runs a special on coffee and wants to target only coffee drinkers in the store's loyalty card program, GSN helps them find those individuals and tailor a message to reach them.
As a result of strong growth and expanded services, GSN has been hiring and expanding, Andolshek says. "We have milestones we want to hit, and we're excited to keep growing."
Source: Albin Andolshek, Grocery Shopping Network
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Digitiliti drives growth with strong product functionality

Digitiliti was founded in 2005 to offer basic database backup and disaster recovery software, and has been expanding ever since. Having moved to cloud backup services just a few years later, the company is now poised to continue its innovation curve with more services around unstructured data.
In most companies, unstructured data comprises about 80 percent of an enterprise's information, in the form of emails, documents, records, audio and video files, online journal articles, and other non-database formats. This type of data can be difficult to search and store without an effective tool for addressing backups and security.
"We looked at that data and wondered how we could make it useful," says Billy Cripe, Digitiliti's Vice President of Marketing and Sales. The company came out with a flagship product, digiLIBE, that offers archiving, sharing, and access to all unstructured data in an enterprise. Even better, the product can collect all business content from any device and put it into Digitiliti's cloud-based system.
The company currently has nine employees, and Cripe says it will continue to operate in lean and efficient mode, but Digitiliti is growing in terms of client numbers. Enterprise content management as an industry has been stagnant in the last five years, but nimble technology like Digitiliti's is surging in popularity as companies use content for collaboration, peer-to-peer file sharing, and other efficiency gains.
"The technology is changing so rapidly, and that's really exciting," says Cripe. "What we focus on is building functionality that adapts to how people need to deal with information."
Source: Billy Cripe, Digitiliti
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

The Social Lights launches social media training program

Minneapolis-based social media and digital marketing agency The Social Lights (see The Line's previous coverage here) recently unveiled a new training and certification program that could boost the number of social media professionals in the Twin Cities.
The six-week accelerated course will be designed to equip qualified candidates with the knowledge and skills to shine as full-time social media community managers. Training is done in a classroom setting as well as online, blending client projects, industry speakers, and case studies. Participants learn to manage multiple platforms and pages, measure the success of their efforts, and develop creative content.
"Over the past three years of managing social media on behalf of a variety of brands, we've learned what it takes to be a strong Community Manager and act as the eyes, ears, and voice of a brand," says Martha McCarthy, co-founder of The Social Lights. "We've also noticed that an increasing number of social media positions require years of experience, but most candidates have no formal training, and limited experience."
During the past year, McCarthy and her partner, Emily Pritchard, have spoken with recruiters, HR managers, brand managers, and others, and discovered that many companies are in a similar position when it comes to recruiting social media professionals: the selection is slim, and those who have great potential lack a deeper level of training.
In addition to providing that instruction, the company will act as a placement agency of sorts, matching training participants with enterprises that need those skills.
"We aim to fill the social media talent gap and provide value to our students and clients alike," says McCarthy.
Source: Martha McCarthy, The Social Lights
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Usability firm NiceUX expands into new office space

A beautiful website or app might be satisfying, but if they lack a high degree of usability, they could sink a business.
Minneapolis-based NiceUX focuses on creating digital products that people enjoy using, and their expertise is becoming more in demand as companies across a range of industries rely on sites and applications.
Seeing steady growth, the company recently moved into new offices in the Warehouse District, and expects to grow its three-person team to 10 within the next year.
Founder Jon Hadden says he doesn't want to turn NiceUX into a large agency (or even be considered an agency), but he feels that the firm offers a distinctive service that will prompt further growth.
"What sets us apart is that every project is different, and we have the skills to recognize that," he says. "Each project has unique content and a unique audience, so we do the research upfront before we pick up a pencil to start any design work."
Many agencies produce digital work, he adds, but skimp on making sure that people will be viewing the finished product in a way that most benefits a client. NiceUX makes that endpoint a priority from the beginning, and Hadden believes this creates a higher level of customer service.
"Sometimes at companies, the research on usability gets put on a back burner," he notes. "But it should be a starting point."
Before making the move to new offices, the company was sharing space with another firm in the Grain Belt building, and Hadden feels this shift will kick off a fresh wave of growth. He says, "It's a wonderful space, and we're excited for what's ahead."
Source: Jon Hadden, NiceUX
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Startup NakedTextbooks launched by local university student

Many times, entrepreneurial inspiration comes from seeing a gap in a specific chain of supply and demand. For University of Minnesota student Benjamin Hohl, that gap was filled with textbooks.
As a freshman, Hohl learned that the average college student spends about $900 per year on textbooks, and receives significantly less than that when selling them back to a campus bookstore. For example, Hohl bought a $200 psychology textbook, and sold it back for $15.
"I wondered why there wasn't a better system to connect students who had the books with those who were willing to buy them," he says. "I thought: why not localize it? We all take the same classes, so why shouldn't we connect with each other to get what we need?"
A few years later, the idea came back to him over a holiday break, and he put together a rough website called TextExchange, which he later changed to the "more catchy" NakedTextbooks. After rebuilding the site several times and adding more functionality, he launched recently and had 2,500 site visitors in the first week. The startup has brought on two other university students to expand its marketing efforts.
The setup is simple: users arrange book exchanges in person, stating how much they'd charge for their used textbooks. Hohl anticipates that the service will always be free for users, but will be monetized by local advertising, especially from potential meet-up sites like coffee shops.
Based on how well the site does at the U. of M. in the near future, Hohl expects that NakedTextbooks could roll out to several more campuses next fall, and expand beyond that in subsequent semesters. In addition to textbooks, he sees the site becoming a major exchange point for students, who could buy and sell items like futons or dorm furniture. Eventually, there could even be subscription fees from universities themselves, he believes.
"We think we have a service that's valuable, and at some point, we'll see a revenue stream," Hohl says. "In the meantime, we're just excited about the different directions this could go."
Source: Benjamin Hohl, NakedTextbooks
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

New crowdfunding service LiifGroup already makes expansion plans

When it comes to crowdfunding, most people are familiar with Kickstarter, a site that boosts the potential of artists and businesspeople, with a strong focus on community efforts and creative arts. For those who don't fall into those categories, though, utilizing crowdfunding has been almost impossible.
That is, until now. Savage-based company LiifGroup offers a dynamic platform that allows users to raise money through multiple crowdfunding sites designed by the firm.
Co-founded by Mark Connelly, Jack Cosentino, and Kristi Masser, the platform launched on January 8th, and has already been gaining traction.
"The last couple months have been crazy," says Connelly. "We're vetting projects, looking at financials, and going from meeting to meeting. We're the first crowdfunding company started in Minnesota, and it's obvious already that there was a need for this."
LiifGroup's model differs from Kickstarter, since a venture won't lose all their money if a certain amount isn't reached within a specified timeframe. Instead, they can receive partial funding. LiifGroup generates revenue by receiving five percent of the amount each company raises.
The medical market, in particular, will benefit from the platform. Connelly is an emergency and trauma physician for North Memorial Health Care, while Masser spent 15 years with pharmaceutical giant Merck. That experience, combined with Cosentino's tech startup background, made the trio gravitate first to the many medical device startups in the region.
In addition to its medical crowdfunding site, called LiifMed, the company has a platform for sports-related startups, LiifSport. Connelly notes that another one is being built for luxury goods, and he anticipates a variety of platforms in the future.
"Already, we see growth ahead, and a great deal of opportunity," he says.
Source: Mark Connelly, LiifGroup
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Online deals app lumaNEAR launches in beta

Although online deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial boast plenty of fans, the model can be challenging for consumers and businesses alike. Those who change their minds about a product or service will lose money because they paid upfront, and for companies, demand can be so intense that more than one business has been shuttered by a Groupon deal.
Minneapolis-based startup lumaNEAR believes there's a better way.
The idea for the deal site has roots at the University of Minnesota, where co-founders Scott Sailer and Kyle Ries were roommates while attending the Carlson School of Management. Sharing a passion for business efficiency, the pair tried a number of different startup ideas, but none felt large enough for eventual expansion.
Then, they started listening to complaints about the online group-buying model, and like the lightbulb in their logo, something clicked on. "We wondered what would happen if we removed the friction and hassle from both sides," says Sailer. "People could still get deals and companies could still get business, but without the headaches."
Their venture, developed with creative guru Teresa Facciotto, went into beta on April 6th. The platform lets users navigate a map with posted deals, but doesn't require pre-buying to take advantage of them. Unlike other online deal sites, lumaNEAR lets vendors tweak a deal at any time, or even remove them if they choose.
Best of all for both sides, the service is free. As a bootstrapped venture, lumaNEAR will likely add fee-based premium features for businesses in the future in order to begin turning a profit, but the co-founders are adamant that basic functionality will always be free.
"Our mission is to connect these two groups together, easily and with low cost," says Sailer. "We have lofty goals for expansion, and we're excited to see where this takes us."
Source: Scott Sailer, lumaNEAR
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
389 entrepreneurship Articles | Page: | Show All
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