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Entrepreneurship : Innovation + Job News

389 Entrepreneurship Articles | Page: | Show All

BuildTools sees growth as construction industry rebounds

As the construction industry roars back to life after a difficult recession, Minneapolis startup BuildTools is finding robust growth, less than two years after launching.
The construction management software got its start when a local builder approached business development professional Chad Mayes and asked for a software tool to assist with building projects. After a test run, Mayes and his team took the software platform to other builders to see if it was worth further development.
"It quickly became apparent that we were sitting on something really valuable, so we took it from in-house ugly duckling to polished software platform," says Mayes. The new BuildTools application released nationally in the summer of 2011, and since then, growth has been so solid that the tool quickly went international, and is now translated into six languages.
Timing has been key, Mayes notes. During the darker days of the recession, many in the construction industry learned to streamline operations, and they didn't make investments for new software. As the industry regained health, the ongoing desire for efficiency and looser budgets brought a surge of customers to BuildTools.
Designed by builders, the software is ideal for mobile devices like iPads, which are increasingly used by project managers, contractors, and even carpenters, for making lists and referring to construction plans.
Mayes estimates that BuildTools is currently reaching just under 10 percent of the market, which means that major expansion is likely as the platform becomes more widespread.
"Definitely, we see increased growth, and we'll be looking to expand not just locally but also nationally and internationally," says Mayes.
Source: Chad Mayes, BuildTools
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Sport Ngin receives major investment, anticipates growth

Minneapolis-based Sport Ngin just received a major funding infusion that will boost the company's already impressive growth even more. The sports software provider recently closed a $6 million financing round with El Dorado Ventures, a venture capital firm with offices in Minnetonka and Silicon Valley. That brings their overall funding total to $10 million since the company's founding in 2008.
Sport Ngin began as TST Media, a design and creative agency started by Justin Kaufenberg and Carson Kipfer while both attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. "Originally, it was just to make a little extra beer money," Kipfer says, with a laugh. "But by the time we were finishing school, we could see the potential for much more."
Looking for a niche, and drawing on their experience playing sports through high school and college, the pair focused on developing software for sports organizations, first for hockey and then for many other sports.
The software they developed allows teams to manage players, post schedules, and track stats, as well as offer online registration. A tournament package offers tools that let users run everything from a Little League event to a professional playoff.
Currently hiring for a number of positions, Sport Ngin sees more growth ahead, both in employee numbers and in products. The company's revenue has increased 100 percent year after year for the past four fiscal years, and aggressive hiring has increased staff numbers to 120.
"This current investment underscores our progress, hard work, and many successes to date, and validates the widespread adoption of Sport Ngin by thousands of sports organizations," says Kaufenberg. "This capital infusion will enable us to further grow our market presence, and to expand and enhance the functionality of Sport Ngin."
Sources: Carson Kipfer and Justin Kaufenberg, Sport Ngin
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

"Mapping" marketers 45 Degrees aim at more midsize clients

Real estate isn't the only industry where location matters.
For marketing, branding, and creative design, a company needs to understand its figurative place among competitors and customers. Susan Hopp and Karl Schweikart, founders of Minneapolis-based creative firm 45 Degrees, have spent the last 16 years as mapmakers for their clients--helping to figure out how each client fits into a specific place in the world.
The married couple started the business in 1997, and chose the company name as a nod toward their geographical position--on the 45 parallel of latitude, which runs through the Twin Cities. They feel that 45 Degrees is unique in the creative industry because of the amount of time they spend in finding a client's "location."
"We need to really understand them before we start designing anything," says Schweikart. "We help them identify their strengths, their emotional connections, in order to give them a solid foundation to move forward."
Hopp adds that other design firms try to capture the essence of a company or brand, but not as in-depth as 45 Degrees. That tendency toward brand cartography can be invaluable for clients, since they might come in thinking they only need a new logo, and end up realizing that they're deeply disconnected from customers.
Looking ahead, the pair don't anticipate growing their employee numbers (currently, it's just the two of them in their happy groove), but they are leaning toward taking on more mid-size companies, which tend to feel the pain of customer disconnection most acutely.
"We have an opportunity to make an impact for clients of any size," says Hopp. "For us, this work is about much more than design."
Sources: Susan Hopp and Karl Schweikart, 45 Degrees
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Minnesota Cup readies for 9th round of innovative ideas

Now entering its 9th year, the Minnesota Cup is distinctive for its array of innovative ideas and entrepreneurship, attracting startup founders and inventors to showcase their best insights for the chance to win $200,000. This year's kickoff came on March 25th, with ideas accepted until May 17th, and organizers are gearing up for another year of robust competition.
"Just like every year, we're excited about what's ahead," says Scott Litman, Minnesota Cup co-founder. "This has become such a great way to inspire and support the state's early-stage entrepreneurs, and it's become a cornerstone for the entrepreneur ecosystem here."
The competition features six divisions: Energy/Clean Tech, General, High Tech, Life Science/Health IT, Social Entrepreneur, and Student. Those who advance to higher rounds get the opportunity to present their business ideas, get paired with mentors, and network with potential investors.
Since the competition began n 2005, over 7,000 Minnesotans have participated. Finalists from just the past four years have gone on to raise more than $60 million in capital. Last year's Grand Prize winner, PreciouStatus, has raised over $1.5 million since its win.
Although every division is chock full of entrants, Litman notes that there are some trends from year to year. "It's fascinating to find a big surge of quality and ideas in certain areas," he says. High Tech tends to be a busy division, he says, but in teh past few years, Health IT has been growing steadily.
Participation is fairly consistent, though, with about 1,000 participants every year. Those who make it to the semifinal round in June will be paired with mentors, with finalists from every division chosen in August.
Source: Scott Litman, Minnesota Cup
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

BookBottles expands management system internationally

Nightclubs in Chile are getting more profitable, thanks to Minneapolis-based startup BookBottles.
The company got started in 2011, when founder Parag Shah was chatting with some friends who were nightclub promoters. They began talking about the challenges of bottle service, a VIP-level reservation where club-goers can book a table and buy liquor by the bottle rather than by the drink. A significant revenue driver for clubs, the service varies widely even in nightlife hotspots like New York and Las Vegas.
Shah tested out the reservation services of several clubs in big cities, booking tables online and by phone, and found that over 75 percent of the clubs didn't even contact him to make the reservations, and some got back to him after the reservation date.
"Considering how much customers are willing to spend on bottle service, the terrible customer service was just baffling to me," he says. "This wasn't just a big opportunity; it seemed like it could go global."
After forming a team and creating software that made it easy for club owners to streamline their bottle service offerings, Shah's business partner went to Startup Chile and received funding for expansion into South America.
Success there is translating into more international opportunity, with BookBottles opening in Mexico within the next couple weeks. In another recent win, the company partnered with Apple to create device packages so the app can be used on Apple products like the iPhone and iPad.
"People don't understand how big this market is, and the nuances of bottle service," says Shah. "We're fortunate in that we're getting into this growing, huge industry, and seeing that our application can be modified for different industries like casinos and restaurants. We're very excited about where we can go from here."
Source: Parag Shah, BookBottles
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

April events: Digital Economy Fundraising, TechBiz, Social Media, Access the Western Hemisphere

Fundraising in the Digital Economy
April 2
CoCo Minneapolis
400 S. 4th St., 4th Floor
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
INVESTyR co-founders Patrick Donohue and Phil Pogge deliver an overview of the types of tactics used to harness digital media for fundraising. Geared toward entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and companies of any size, the talk gives attendees tools for raising capital and strengthening relationships with investors and financiers.
TechBiz Minnesota 2013
April 5
Earle Brown Heritage Center
6155 Earle Brown Dr., Brooklyn Center
9:30 am - 3:00 pm
Organized by Advance IT Minnesota, this conference brings together employers of IT-related talent and local students. During the event, student projects will be showcased, giving students an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and employers a chance to see accomplished learners.
Hedgeye Embraces Minnesota: CEO Keith McCullough Talks Social Media
April 10
Macy's Oak Grill
700 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
11:30 am - 1:00 pm
$20 members, $45 non-members
Hosted by the CFA Society of Minnesota, this talk by Hedgeye Risk Management founder Keith McCullough addresses social media in the context of finance and investment. With more than 20,000 followers on Twitter, McCullough can articulate how he uses the medium to engage audiences and spark innovation.
Access the Western Hemisphere Conference
April 23 & 24
Radisson Plaza Hotel Minneapolis
7:30 am - 5:00 pm
registration from $249 to $349 depending on type
Bringing together 10 senior commercial diplomats and sponsored by the Minnesota District Export Council, this conference will provide insight on how attendees can identify new export opportunities, develop strategic relationships, and increase market share in specific countries.

Brand marketing firm Bicycle Theory finds its path

There's a certain kind of power to a really good metaphor, and for a top example, just consider Bicycle Theory.
The St. Paul-based brand marketing firm, started in 2001 by entrepreneurs Ben McCoy and Jeremy Burgeson, got its distinctive name in part from McCoy's love for cycling, but also from the company's mission.
"It's a great metaphor because when we chose it, we were working with small brands and we could see how bicycles were representative of brand marketing," says McCoy, noting that a strong brand is similar to a well-designed, well-maintained bicycle that can carry its rider farther and faster than a poorly constructed bike. Even the wheels can be metaphorical, he adds--they stand for the two primary media that carry campaigns, print and web.
The idea for a brand management company was first sparked when the founders were just out of college and working for a creative agency. McCoy jokes that they were both the kind of kids who knew how to program VCRs in the 1980s, so they gravitated toward technology, and in 2001, the Internet was still like the Wild West.
"We started in a basement, and then moved into larger spaces over the years," he says. The firm has five full-time employees, and McCoy notes that they're ready to grow, but want to be methodical about expansion.
"There's so much innovation going on, and every day brings a new round of problem solving," he says. "We're excited about the possibilities, but at the same time, our goal isn't to be on the bleeding edge, it's to be on the cutting edge. We always want to make sure our solutions will work."
Source: Ben McCoy, Bicycle Theory
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

400 Doors provides innovative real estate app

As the housing market continues to rebound, real estate agents and house hunters will have a powerful tool in the search for fresh properties, thanks to a new app called 400 Doors.
Created by real estate agent Bill Pauling, designer Nils Hansen, and programmer Robert Nelson, the app allows buyers to get a glimpse of properties potentially coming onto the market before they're formally listed, providing a crystal ball into new listings. Sellers are able to use the app to gauge what sort of price they can get for a property, as a way to determine if the timing is right for them.
"Right now, a lot of buyers are frustrated because there's very little inventory on the market, so when something good does get listed, it's very competitive," says Pauling. "From a seller's standpoint, they want to know if they can get the price they want before they list."
The idea came to Pauling when he was sitting in a weekly meeting at his agency and chatting about pre-listings. This is common practice at every real estate firm, he says, but it's done on such an informal basis that the information isn't captured in any useful way for those who can't make the meeting. Some systems have been created at certain agencies, but they're in-house and agency-specific, so they don't benefit the entire real estate community.
The app's name is a nod toward all the doors that open as a result of getting a deal done, Pauling says. Funded by sponsors like plumbers and electricians, who pay to get their names to users, 400 Doors is free for agents. Launched in February, the app is taking off already, with agents from over 20 brokerages signing up, and more new members every day.
"This model should work anywhere, and the feedback so far has been outstanding," says Pauling. "We try to be modest in our goals, but once we perfect it here, there's no reason we can't go nationwide with the system."
Source: Bill Pauling, 400 Doors
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

The Foundation offers IT for the creative industry

In Internet years, The Foundation is practically an institution by now.
Founded in 1999, the Minneapolis-based company began as a managed IT firm for printers, graphic designers, and architects, and even after 14 years, the focus still remains on creative professionals. In the past decade, the company has blended in other services like project implementation and remote network monitoring, but its laser focus on one industry has made The Foundation a go-to IT resource for creatives.
"The difficulty in that particular industry is that they're increasingly reliant on technology, but many of them don't have time to learn about the technical side," says Matt Woestehoff, Director of Business Development and Operations at The Foundation. "We help them get back to work quickly when a problem comes up."
The company's 14 employees tend to come from creative fields--Woestehoff jokes that he's a "failed designer"--and are passionate about supporting the creative community. In addition to getting clients back on track, The Foundation has also seen an uptick in implementation requests. For example, a creative agency might want to deploy 1,000 iPads in retail stores and set up a dedicated help desk for the effort. Not only can The Foundation take on that task easily, but it can also set up relevant apps and handle technology updates.
Mobile technology efforts like that are driving big growth at the company, which looks forward to adding at least five people to its employee roster over the next year. But even if the firm didn't get a major boost from mobile, there would still be contentment with its founding mission, Woestehoff believes: "We have a purpose, and we can see how our work affects the bigger creative community."
Source: Matt Woestehoff, The Foundation
Writer: Elizabeth Millard 

Straight Line Theory focuses on streamlining the digital experience

Back in the old days of Internet business startups (think mid-1990s), usability tended to be a big deal, sparking hundreds of articles about best practices and online navigation strategies. Although the term isn't used as often these days, it's still a vitally important component for companies that want to build effective user experiences.
Founded in 2002, Minneapolis-based Straight Line Theory has focused on information architecture and usability for over a decade, resisting the urge to broaden its offerings into other areas like web design or online branding. The company has no web designers or developers, just usability experts who know how people interact with each other and with companies online.
The business name, says co-founder John Dusek, refers to the route someone would take to get from point A to point B: a straight line. "It's a good metaphor for what we do," he says. "We see what clients are trying to accomplish, and we help them satisfy those goals as efficiently as possible."
With the rise of mobile technologies, usability has become even more important in some ways, giving Straight Line Theory a steady stream of clients. They now do a large chunk of work on mobile devices, tablets, and even mall kiosks and ATM machines.
With seven employees, Straight Line Theory has been conservative in terms of growth, Dusek says. Usually, the firm adds one employee per year, and that rate of expansion keeps the company nimble, notes Dusek: "We don't have layers of project managers and account people, just clients and interface design professionals working directly with one another."
Source: John Dusek, Straight Line Theory
Writer: Elizabeth Millard 

Relationship insight just a click away with Dear Appvice

Mobile apps can provide everything from online banking capability to restaurant reviews, so why wouldn't they be able to untangle your love life, too?
A unique new app, Dear Appvice, is willing to give it a shot. Developed by Todd Gross at media company New World Productions, the app's name is a nod toward popular advice column Dear Abby, and it's designed to make any user into a budding expert on relationships.
Featuring a simple interface, the app lets users pose a question and get up to five responses. Other users can give advice or see what's already been written. The categories are love, sex, dating, and relationships.
Gross thought of the idea after working on corporate projects at New World. Looking for a venture he could do independently, he was struck by a morning talk radio show that featured callers who gave each other advice on love.
"It occurred to me that I could put that in an application, and let people talk to each other, with the same level of anonymity you'd get from a call-in show," he says. "Sometimes online, it feels like everyone is running their own promotional campaign for themselves, but this is something where they could interact instead."
Of course, the app launched on Valentine's Day. Since then, the reaction has been strong, and users are embracing the concept. A couple of very heartfelt interchanges let Gross know that he was on track with his goal of creating something useful and important to users.
"You always think, what can I do to make the world a better place, to increase communication?" he says. "Matters of the heart affect all of us, and that's why I think this app is so well received. I'm excited to see where we can take it."
Source: Todd Gross, Dear Appvice
Writer: Elizabeth Millard 

PoliMobile brings mobile fundraising clout to political campaigns

Fundraising for nonprofits and political campaigns seems to be as much of an art as a skill. Harnessing innovation can help, and that's where PoliMobile comes in.
Founded by entrepreneur Curt Prins in 2011, the startup initially began as a software-as-a-service platform, until both President Obama and Mitt Romney announced they were adopting Square to help them fundraise. Prins and his team saw that moment as a hook for PoliMobile's platform, showing that new technologies could be used to raised money.
The company switched its focus to mobile, working with a mobile app development agency to create a tool that could be used across a variety of campaigns. Last year, PoliMobile set up mobile capability for Minnesotans United, the major effort to defeat the proposed Marriage Amendment, as well as a mobile project for the organization against the proposed Photo ID Amendment. Prins notes that PoliMobile's market tends to lean toward progressive organizations right now, but could work across the political spectrum.
"Coming out of the 2012 election cycle, campaigns we worked on had an 80 percent win rate, which is pretty decent," Prins says, adding that the PoliMobile platform was able to identify specific communities using census data and send tailored messages that were helpful for building awareness and developing fundraising opportunities. For example, a campaign that wanted to send a customized message to Somali residents could find the top three zip codes for those voters and push out a note to their mobile devices. For populations such as Somali, Hmong, and African Americans, mobile technology is often the only way to reach individuals.
Because of its unique niche, PoliMobile's future looks bright, especially since there will always be political campaigns, from local elections to presidential races, with every level in-between.
"We believe that next year will be big, and if we continue to play it right, 2016 will be even larger," Prins says.
Source: Curt Prins, PoliMobile
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Mayo Clinic opens a business accelerator

Rochester is ready to see a fresh burst of startup activity, thanks to a new business accelerator put together by the Mayo Clinic and the Rochester Area Economic Development Initiative.
The Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator at the Minnesota BioBusiness Center features space that can be leased by entrepreneurs, startup companies, venture capitalists and professional service provider. According to Dr. John Noseworthy, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, the accelerator was put together to spark the growth of healthcare-related businesses in the area.
"The accelerator is an example of the strength of a strong partnership between Mayo Clinic and the community, to make it easier and more affordable for companies to start and locate in Rochester," Dr. Noseworthy says.
There are seven founding tenants, including Versant Ventures, a venture capital firm that specializes in investments in medical devices and biopharmaceuticals, and Evidentia Health, an IT company focusing on healthcare clients. Other tenants include Resoundant, Zumbro Discovery, and VitalHealth Software.
Mayo Clinic aims to provide a nurturing space so that companies can avoid the type of startup roadblocks that might hinder growth.
Dr. Noseworthy added that the accelerator fits in well with Destination Medical Center, a $5 billion economic development initiative that is projected to create up to 45,000 new jobs in Rochester and other parts of the state.
Startup companies are willing to locate in Rochester, Dr. Noseworthy notes, but they need to infrastructure to stay in the city. "Without that, they are vulnerable to leaving not only Rochester, but the state of Minnesota."
Source: John Noseworthy, Mayo Clinic
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

U. of M. debuts entrepreneurial leave program for faculty

A new program at the University of Minnesota could boost the number of startup companies and innovative products in the state, with faculty putting a whole new spin on "office hours."
The Entrepreneurial Leave Program will facilitate temporary leave for faculty inventors who want to assist an external organization in commercializing a product or service that might use university-derived intellectual property.  
The university decided on the step because as a land-grant institution, the school wants to stay connected to the local business community, notes Russ Straate, in the Office for Technology Commercialization at the University of Minnesota. That connection is strengthened when technology makes it out of the university and into the marketplace, a transition in which faculty usually plays a key role.
"We put this together to help faculty translate their work into the commercial sector," says Straate. "It gives them permission and time to explore."
Most importantly, the program also gives them benefits. In the past, faculty were granted leaves of absence to pursue projects, but had to give up their health insurance and other plum university benefits. That left many putting their projects on a back burner instead of pursuing commercialization.
"It's important for faculty to continue to grow and learn, that's what sabbaticals are about," Straate says. "When doing a leave of absence, though, you shouldn't be negatively impacting your family and yourself."
The program will be officially in place in July, but Straate notes that there's already buzz among faculty members who've wanted to take their research and development to the next level.
Source: Russ Straate, University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

ByME brings online coupon model to college students

Wildly popular with consumers, sites like LivingSocial and Groupon aren't always relevant for young adults, believes entrepreneur Chad Olsen.
"There are so many crazy good deals, but it felt like there wasn't much for college students," he says. To change the situation, he created ByME, an app that focuses on that demographic, and also puts a different spin on the online coupon model.
Unlike Groupon, those using ByME don't need to buy ahead for their deals. They can just bring a smartphone into a participating retailer or service provider and present the e-coupon on the spot. That's an advantage, because it doesn't create a deluge of orders for a small business, and it doesn't lock users into a certain deal before they start shopping.
Olsen got the idea for the company while running a web development agency. One of his clients called, in tears, because a Groupon deal had overloaded the company, and eventually drove it into bankruptcy.
"When I heard that, I thought there must be a way to start with good deals for students, and drive traffic for these businesses, without overwhelming them," he says.
The app does create a bit of a frenzy, however. A recent deal at Noodles & Co. was so popular that the restaurant ran out of food. Olsen jokes that the company's new tagline is "We made Noodles run out of noodles."
As the company approaches its one-year mark, Olsen and his business partner Alec Bronston are already working on the next version, incorporating tweaks that will make ByME even more useful. He says, "We're able to learn from our mistakes to become more agile and lean."
Source: Chad Olsen, ByME
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
389 Entrepreneurship Articles | Page: | Show All
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