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MN Social Impact Center to connect change agents

The Minnesota Social Impact Center (MSIC) will launch in early 2015 spearheaded by Katie Kalkman, Terri Barreiro and Beth Parkhill—three Twin Cities’ residents with deep roots in the local business community. MSIC aims to build on the momentum generated by other recent social innovation startups in the area, including Social Innovation Lab, Social Enterprise Alliance Twin Cities and GlobalShapers Hub.
 
According to MSIC board member Michael Bischoff, the organization’s goal is simple: Connecting “change agents” from the nonprofit, business, government and philanthropy sectors to improve citizen engagement, access to education and the arts, and conditions for Twin Cities residents of all ages.
 
Despite a dense concentration of such change agents right here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Bischoff laments, there’s no single framework for integrating their activities, or even ensuring that they’re on the same page. “Our goal is to foster real world solutions to address some of the greatest challenges facing our communities and the world,” Barreiro explains. “Pick any major issue and you’ll find groups convening in our region, seeking new answers that will achieve better results than what we have today.”
 
On November 12, MSIC hosts a “pre-launch” event (6:30 pm to 9:30 pm in Macalester College’s Kagin Ballroom). Macalester College is “a natural choice for the pre-launch event,” says Bischoff, “because social innovators have been gathering there for several years as part of the Bush Foundation’s Social Innovation Lab.”
 
The event will include announcements about specific programming initiatives and membership options, as well as material on “more than 30 stories of transformative social impact in Minnesota,” says Bischoff.
 
The event itself is free. But for $275, attendees can distinguish themselves as “founding members.” Although many details still have to be worked out, membership at MSIC would include access to a co-working space similar to those currently administered by Joule and CoCo. Other levels of membership would include access to MSIC’s facilities, staff, collaborators and other members—all offering a wealth of social enterprise expertise—without physical co-working space.
 
According to Bischoff, MSIC’s programming will initially utilize several spaces around the Twin Cities, but the organizations is in the market for a permanent location. Board members Kalkman and Tim Reardon are heading up the search, weighing site options in downtown St. Paul, along the Green Line and at unspecified locations in Minneapolis.
 
“We know innovators want us to get this going now,” says Reardon. “We need a minimum of 5,000 square feet to start. Long-term, we’ll need two to three times the space to build the right environment for this dynamic, interactive community.” Reardon and Kalkman hope to find a space, at least on a temporary basis, for the center’s anticipated launch.
 

MN Cup: "American Idol" for entrepreneurs

On September 10, the Minnesota Cup announced its best “breakthrough idea” of 2014: 75F, a Mankato-based technology company that makes efficient, cost-effective HVAC sensors. The company, which emerged as the winner of MN Cup’s Energy/Clean Tech/Water category division before emerging as the grand prize winner, took home a total of $105,000 in prize money and funding commitments.
 
But it wasn’t the only company that won big in this year’s MN Cup. Trovita Health Science, a startup based in Minneapolis' North Loop that makes a meal replacement drink called ENU, took home a $30,000 prize as the winner of the Food/Ag/Beverage category. YOXO, a St. Paul toymaker that uses simple cardboard connectors in innovative ways, also took earned $30,000 for topping the General/Miscellaneous category. Four other category winners won between $20,000 and $30,000 in prize money, and earned immeasurable visibility for their ideas.
 
All told, more than 1,300 Minnesota entrepreneurs and startups participated in this year’s MN Cup—a record turnout. At least 50 percent of all entrants came from the Twin Cities. In a press release, MN Cup co-founder Scott Litman described the field as “the most competitive yet” in the competition’s decade-long history.
 
Aside from 75F and the rest of MN Cup’s category winners, the September 10 event highlighted the achievements of local entrepreneurs and thought leaders who support the Twin Cities’ growing startup scene. After raising more than $10,000 via Kickstarter, Twin Cities Mobile Market secured a $1,000 cash prize for its elevator pitch at this year’s Minnesota Cup. TCMM is a “grocery store on wheels” that brings fresh, affordable produce and other nutritious foods to Minneapolis-St. Paul neighborhoods that lack easy access to full-service grocery stores.
 
MN Cup also recognized Carlson School of Business grad Steve Eilertson as its “2014 Entrepreneur of the Year” for his role as president of locally based Grain Millers, Inc. And thanks to a partnership with the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, women were much more visible at this year’s event. Published figures indicate that more than one-third of all entries came from women-led teams. Nearly half of all entries had at least one female participant.
 
For entrepreneurs who missed the May filing deadline for MN Cup 2014, next year brings a new opportunity. In a September 12 interview on Minnesota Public Radio, Litman had some sage advice for those who would participate. “It might seem un-Minnesotan,” he said, “but successful entrepreneurs” have to be unabashed about self-promotion and arguing for their vision.
 
He sees two big reasons why enthusiastic entrepreneurs fail. First, they don’t ask for enough money. It’s critical to pin down the cost of developing, marketing and scaling an idea, and many startup owners underestimate the costs they’ll incur before revenues start coming in. By holding out the prospect of five-figure prizes for winning entrants, and by connecting all entrants with mentors and investors who can inject additional capital into worthy startups, MN Cup helps bridge this financing gap.
 
Just as important, entrepreneurs must surround themselves with the right people, who may be more important than the idea itself. “A great idea in the hands of a mediocre team may not work,” said Litman. He argues that MN Cup is designed to help entrepreneurs self-select: Those who thrive on high-stakes pitches and meticulous business plan development leave the process much stronger, while those who flounder realize that they may need help turning their vision into a reality.
 
“It’s like American Idol,” said Litman. “Lots of people can sing well,” but not everyone’s voice can fill Xcel Energy Center.
 

GetKnit boosts experiences with local businesses

Minneapolis event-organizing company, GetKnit Events, is changing the way Twin Cities residents experience local businesses and attractions. On September 13, it pulled off its most ambitious and far-reaching experience yet: Rails & Ales, a self-guided tour of the breweries and brewpubs along the Green Line, from Target Field to Union Depot. Hundreds of participants sipped discounted brews, previewed special cask releases and rubbed shoulders with some of the most innovative brewers in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
 
For GetKnit founder Matt Plank, connecting Twin Citians with local business owners—preferably on a permanent basis—is the whole point. He and the company’s “core team” of paid employees, most of whom knew each other socially before GetKnit’s founding, are constantly looking for “ways that we [can pursue] our goal of community engagement while supporting local businesses in and around Minnesota,” says Plank.
 
Tickets for Rails & Ales sold out quickly, but a lucky group of several hundred attendees got their run of three establishments in Minneapolis and five in St. Paul, all within walking distance of the Green Line. (Though pedicabs were out in force to transport customers between stations and breweries, especially at farther-flung spots like Urban Growler and Bang Brewing.) Guests checked in at the Target Field, Stadium Village or Union Depot stations, where GetKnit staffers and volunteers handed out T-shirts, drink tokens (two per person, each good for a free pint) and “event passports” that listed participating breweries, their specials and Rails & Ales social media contests.
 
Other locally owned businesses got in on the act too. The Dubliner Pub, between the popular Raymond Avenue (Urban Growler and Bang) and Fairview Avenue (Burning Brothers) stops, ran all-day drink and food specials. Food trucks like Peeps Hot Box posted up outside participating breweries, tempting customers with daily specials. And even independent vendors, like the woman selling vintage glassware outside Bang, profited from the early-afternoon crush on a beautiful Saturday.
 
Meanwhile, the brewers themselves relished the chance to mingle with enthusiastic craft beer fans. At the Mill District’s Day Block Brewing, for instance, the head brewer handed out free pints to anyone who correctly guessed the varieties of hops laid out on the table before him. Rails & Ales wrapped up at 6 p.m., but brewery owners have to be hoping that the day provided a permanent boost in visibility.
 
GetKnit draws inspiration from other tour companies and event organizers, says Plank, but with a twist. Aside from the focus on locally owned business, which is lacking in some areas of the industry, the company aims for “wildly original” events “that our participants likely couldn’t do anywhere but through GetKnit.” You might be able to spend an entire Saturday riding the Green Line between breweries, in other words, but you probably wouldn’t be able to mingle with head brewers, try specially brewed cask releases or enter social media contests for free events and swag.
 
And unlike more bare-bones tour and event operators, GetKnit organizes well-staffed, all-inclusive events that “allow participants to turn off their brains for a day...and not worry about anything,” says Plank. For Rails & Ales, GetKnit had at least one representative at every participating brewery, in addition to staff at check-in stations. The goal was to facilitate “safe and responsible” enjoyment while showcase the ease of using local transit and “how much is accessible right off of its grid.”
 
GetKnit also designs bespoke events for private groups. Plank cites a recent example in which a group of Latin American businesspeople came to the Twin Cities for meetings and sightseeing. Many had never been to Minnesota, so Plank’s team set about creating the "quintessential Minnesotan experience” that included a horse-drawn carriage tour of St. Anthony Main, a brewery tour and tasting, a hands-on cooking class featuring Jucy Lucy burgers and even private curling lessons.
 
For now, GetKnit organizes events in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. But Plank doesn’t rule out the possibility of expanding the model to other regions, possibly with the help of knowledgeable locals. A recent St. Croix Valley winery tour did cross the Wisconsin border, and “we are playing with other events that might do more extensive tours of other areas in our neighbor to the east,” he says.
 

Booming startup scene active in TC Startup Week

This week (through September 14), the best and brightest in the Twin Cities’ booming startup scene will come out to play for Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW). Sponsored by prominent, entrepreneur-focused local organizations like Beta.mn, Tech[dot]MN, Minnesota Cup and Minne*, the event features free coworking at CoCo, Minnesota Cup’s final awards reception and the ever-popular Bootstrappers Breakfast get-together.
 
“Twin Cities Startup Week is inspired by the growth of Minnesota’s tech startup community,” says Morgan Weber of Minnesota Cup. “Our goal is to unite the makers, doers and creators in the local startup scene.”
 
TCSW events will take place throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, with many events finding homes at tech-friendly spaces like CoCo and Maker’s Cafe. They’ll cater to businesses at every stage of the startup process, too.
 
For instance, on Tuesday, Beta.mn 1.5 invited early-stage startups to demo their ideas, dispensing with formal pitches. It was “a lot like a science fair, but with more booze,” according to the event page. The Minnesota Cup reception on Wed evening caters to startups that are further along, awarding hefty prizes to entrepreneurs and teams with highly promising products. Rejection Therapy, which teaches participants to deal with professional rejection, offers character-building guidance that entrepreneurs can use throughout their careers.
 
While most TCSW events cater to local startups, tech entrepreneurs and investors will be on hand as well. Showcase events like Twin Cities Startup Crawl, which will tour a handful of downtown Minneapolis startups, and MinneDemo, a formal pitch event, are particularly attractive to outsiders (and local investors) looking for the next big thing.
 
Twin Cities Startup Week isn’t a first-of-its-kind event. Startup Weeks abound in other parts of the country: In May, Boulder hosted its own Startup Week, sponsored by more than a dozen local tech companies and innovation nonprofits; in June, Maine Startup & Create Week hosted an eight-day conference that showcased that state’s technology sector for the benefit of outside investors. Startup Weekend, a Seattle-based, nonprofit offshoot of Google for Entrepreneurs, hosts frequent local events at which entrepreneurs collaborate to launch a startup within 54 hours.
 
TCSW, however, is rooted in the unique, collaborative culture of the Twin Cities. Neither the Boulder nor Maine events included free coworking sessions or anything like Minnesota Cup, for example.
 

Rail~volution showcases MSP's transit-oriented development

Next week, September 21-24, the Twin Cities will host Rail~volution 2014, one of the country’s most visible transit and development conferences.
 
Founded in 1989 in Portland, Oregon, as a local advocacy organization, Rail~volution expanded in 1995 into an annual conference that brings the country’s top transit and design thinkers together each year. According to the Rail~Volution website, the "conference is for passionate practitioners — people from all perspectives who believe strongly in the role of land use and transit as equal partners in the quest for greater livability and greater communities."
 
Rail~volution 2014 will showcase the vibrancy of the Twin Cities, thanks to two dozen “mobile workshops” spread across four days. The a la carte events include “Grow, Sell and Eat Local,” which will take attendees to Frogtown Farm, Urban Organics and the St. Paul Farmers Market. “BOD: Bike-Oriented Development + The Midtown Greenway” shows off “the nation’s best urban bike trail” on a 12-mile bike tour.
 
Other noteworthy events include a “cultural journey” centered on the Franklin Street LRT station, a tour through the Warehouse District/North Loop, and a “history and vision” workshop about the Northstar commuter rail line. Other workshops and lectures will take place at the Hyatt Regency near the Minneapolis Convention Center.
 
Another highlight of Rail~volution 2014 is a trade show that features more than a dozen rail-related exhibitors, from multinational rolling stock manufacturers like Siemens to smaller firms like Oregon-based United Streetcar and Northwest Signal. Local sponsors include Kimley Horn, a St. Paul-based design firm, as well as the Central Corridor Funders’ Collaborative, a consortium of organizations dedicated to fostering transit-oriented development and sustainable growth along the Green Line.
 
Local conference attendees will have plenty of opportunities to network with national players in the transit and development business. Before the conference officially kicks off, the Baseball + Hotdogs + Local Brews event combines a Twins game with a tour of the newly refurbished Ford Center, in the Warehouse District, and free-flowing Twin Cities beers. For non-baseball fans, a paddleboat cruise shows off the cities’ skylines and natural beauty from the Mississippi River. Those who want to pair art and transit can tour the Loring Greenway and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which precedes a Saturday-evening show at the Jungle Theater.
 
The location of its signature conference varies each year, but Rail~volution has plans to implement year-round programming that “fufill[s] our mission and vision that America's cities and regions be transformed into livable places—healthy, economically vibrant, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable,” according to its website.
 
 

Man Cave Meats introduces craft brats and burgers

Man Cave Meats, a rapidly growing Minneapolis startup founded by a recent University of Minnesota grad and his brother, aims to do for burgers and brats what Summit and Surly have done for beer. The company sells “craft meat” processed and prepared in small batches from high-quality regional (the pork comes from Iowa and the beef from Nebraska) ingredients.
 
From its first 20 grocery store accounts in November 2013, Man Cave has grown to around 200 individual accounts, mostly in the Twin Cities, greater Minnesota and North Dakota. Locally, the company deals with homegrown grocers like Lunds, Byerly's, Kowalski’s and some Cub Foods outlets. In its ever-popular beer brats, Man Cave incorporates a hyper-local ingredient: Summit Pilsener.
 
“You can smell the beer when you cook our beer brats,” says Man Cave marketing coordinator Jessica Hughes.
 
Man Cave’s goal, Hughes says, is simple: to produce flavorful, high-quality and responsibly sourced meat products that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Everything but the initial butchering and processing, which needs to be done at a specialized plant, happens at Man Cave’s Twin Cities production facility. Unlike larger producers, Man Cave exclusively uses pork shoulder in its brats. Pork shoulder is a relatively lean (80/20) and flavorful cut of meat, and a far cry from the fatty cuts used in mass-produced sausages.
 
Man Cave also hires locally. About half the full-time staff hails from the U of M or the University of St. Thomas, and most referrals come via word of mouth. During the warm season, when Man Cave’s business picks up, the company retains 20 to 30 part-timers to do grocery store demos and to staff booths at outdoor events, like minor league baseball games, 5K runs and street festivals.
 
“We’re taking a page right out of the craft beer playbook,” says Hughes, citing local beer festivals like the Summer Beer Dabbler as inspiration for Man Cave’s outdoorsy promotional events. Hands-on demonstrations, preferably outdoors, are in the company’s DNA: As a U of M sophomore, co-founder Nick Beste promoted the nascent Man Cave with backyard grilling events at which guests (and passers-by) sampled brats and socialized.
 
Early on, the Bestes also secured a stall at the Mill City Farmers Market. “That really got us off the ground,” says Hughes. Until last year, the bulk of the company’s sales came from on-site purchases at the farmers market and the occasional backyard party.
 
But Man Cave has outgrown its roots. Its exponential growth in the past year is exciting for the company’s nine or 10 full-timers, some of whom started out as part-timers. Finding new markets is exciting as well: Thanks to its growing, affluent and heavily male population, Williston, North Dakota—the epicenter of the shale oil boom—is Man Cave’s most promising market outside of the Twin Cities, says Hughes.
 
Challenges do remain. With a tight focus on Angus burgers and flavored brats, Man Cave’s product line is heavy on the grillables. But the company has grown to the point where it needs a strong revenue stream all year long, says Hughes, so the team has redoubled its efforts to identify “winter-friendly craft meats.” One such item is Man Cave’s mini-brats. “They’re about a quarter the size of our regular brats and come in packs of 15,” says Hughes, “so they’re perfect for pigs-in-blankets and can easily be cooked in any oven.”
 
The company is also looking to introduce a new line of bacon. “It can’t just be your standard slice of bacon,” says Hughes. “It needs to uphold that craft theme.” Further down the road, locally sourced chicken and turkey sausage could make their way into the inventory, especially in health-conscious markets like Minneapolis and St. Paul. And the company is focused on fleshing out its online store as well.
 
But for now, Hughes and the Man Cave team are just happy to be part of an ambitious startup that’s putting the Twin Cities back on the butchery map—and, hopefully, making it possible for people everywhere to pair their craft beer with a craft brat or burger.
 

River City Revue highlights the good, the bad, the ugly along the Mississippi

The River City Revue (RCR) is “an annual summer series of river tours throughout the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area organized by Works Progress Studio, the Mississippi River Fund and the National Park Service,” according to its website. And RCR isn’t shy about highlighting the dark side of living in a river city.
 
After an August 22nd canoe trip between Hastings, Minnesota and Prescott, Wisconsin, the series returns to the Padelford Riverboat in St. Paul for “Filth on the River” on September 10. That program features “performances, participatory games, and short illustrated talks on some of the filthy, debaucherous, and unseemly aspects of life on the Mississippi.”
 
The overall goal of the series is to showcase the Mississippi River’s impacts on the Twin Cities’ economy, culture and natural environment. “To me, living in a river city means thinking about our relationship to water,” says Shanai Matteson, co-director of Works Progress Studio. “Water connects and sustains us,” adds Colin Kloecker, the studio’s other co-director.
 
According to Matteson, River City Revue began in 2011 as a public art collaboration with Northern Spark. Initially planned as a one-off, the initiative was so successful that Matteson and Kloecker pushed to turn it into an annual series. As the only National Park Service-protected waterway in a major urban area, the Twin Cities’ Mississippi River frontage is a unique asset that RCR’s collaborators believe is worth celebrating.
 
Other events have included “Purity on the River,” a get-together on the Jonathan Padelford Riverboat that featured speeches, performances and material showcases from local artists and thinkers.
 
The event was a mishmash of water-themed content, including a “water bar” with flights of local tap water and “collaborative panoramic river drawing” with the MAKESH!T Collective. Other highlights included a water-themed photo showcase, a poetry reading by Mary Austin Speaker, and a discussion of “water purity and beer brewing” – always an interesting topic – that included local author Doug Hoverson and representatives from Boom Island, Bang Brewing and Indeed Brewing Company.
 
“Purity on the River” was the third of five River City Revue events and one of two riverboat cruises in the series. The first RCR event, held at the Science Museum of Minnesota on June 27, featured riverfront walking tours (which had to be modified slightly due to high water levels) and lectures from National Park Service employees and local historians.
 
The second, which launched from the Soap Factory on July 23, explored the Twin Cities’ best “fishin’ holes” and included input from local fishing experts, chefs and naturalists.
 

Design for Good/The Common Table create food systems exhibit

The AIGA Minnesota  Design for Good initiative (#designforgood), first launched nationally by AIGA in 2011, is partnering with The Common Table for a first-of-its-kind showcase at this year’s Minnesota State Fair. The exhibit will highlight the diversity of local food systems, with input from “organic farmers, farm-to-table restaurants, nonprofits working on healthy soil initiatives and other organizations involved with sustainable agricultural initiatives,” says Sandy Wolfe Wood of AIGA Minnesota.
 
Among other things, the exhibit highlights Design for Good’s commitment to “design thinking,” an “iterative problem-solving process” that “has the power to find innovative solutions to our most challenging social problems,” says Wolfe Wood.
 
Design for Good's showcase is part of The Common Table's exhibit about local food stories in the Horticulture Building at the state fairgrounds. The Common Table enlisted AIGA Minnesota and the Design for Good initiative to design the graphic and multimedia storyboards for the 18 partner organizations. These storyboards are supported by the Storytelling Pavilion, a structure designed and constructed by The Common Table team that resembles branching trees with a canopy of airy honeycombs. The exhibit is both kid and family friendly, and will remain as a permanent exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair for years to come.
 
Many of the partner organizations are based in the Twin Cities. Notables include Red Stag Supperclub, Wedge Community Co-op and Birchwood Cafe. All of them source organic and sustainably farmed produce from farms near the Twin Cities.
 
Several producers will be on hand as well, including Homestead Gardens of Welch (an innovative plot that utilized cold-climate permaculture techniques) and Moonstone Farms. Industry thought leaders from the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, Environmental Justice Advocates and the Central Minnesota Sustainability Program will participate too. 
 
Design for Good has grown into a key initiative for AIGA Minnesota, which is one of the country’s largest AIGA chapters and one of the state’s largest design organizations. According to its website, Design for Good’s ongoing programming aims to build “a core group of designers interested in design for social impact...who want to be engaged with social change, who have ideas of what issues are most salient, and who can share stories of successful collaborations that have made a difference in the world.”
 
Fairgoers who aren’t affiliated with AIGA Minnesota, The Common Table or any of the exhibit’s partner organizations can still lend their time and talents to the event in exchange for free State Fair admission on the day they volunteer. The Common Table is handling volunteer scheduling here.
 

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.
 

 

Social Innovation Lab plans "Deep Dive" for change agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Theater launches innovative ARTshare program

On Tuesday, July 22, the West Bank's Southern Theater publicly launched its ARTshare program with a festive gathering at Town Hall Brewery. Beginning in January, ARTshare members will get full access to all 15 of the Southern's resident performance companies for $18 per month, with a minimum commitment of 12 months. Members can reserve seats at performances on a first-come, first-serve basis, with no additional fees or restrictions. The theater is also working on a set of members-only perks, to be announced later this year.

To start, the theater is making a total of 2,100 memberships available. The Southern is already well on its way to this goal: Barely two hours into the celebration, nearly 200 memberships sold online and at Town Hall. Once the cap is reached, membership will be closed until and unless executive director Damon Runnals and his team decide to add more capacity. Memberships help fund a three-year, $11,000 per year residency for each group. The Southern won't charge residents to rent the space, though they must shoulder their own production costs.

In a recent interview with MinnPost, Runnals acknowledged that ARTshare will bring live performance to the Southern Theater for the first time in more than three years. While this means that the space won't be available for rental or other functions for the foreseeable future, it will provide a platform for more than a dozen small, local dance or theater groups. To smooth the transition, Runnals plans to "[hold] meetings with the resident companies to talk and share best practices," according to the interview.

If the Town Hall-hosted event was any indication, the initiative should be successful. Eighty attendees filled the brewery's patio. Free beer and appetizers fueled a merry crowd, many of which were members of Southern's future resident companies. People in orange ARTshare T-shirts circulated through the crowd, speaking with attendees about the initiative and soliciting membership pledges. At 4:30 p.m., the brewery patio hosted three impromptu performances from future ARTshare resident companies.

Members can expect more of the same from ARTshare's nearly untested membership model. As he noted in the MinnPost interview, Runnals and his team didn't have another example to study. Two theaters in Chicago and the Pacific Northwest also offer limited numbers of unrestricted memberships, but they both double as production companies. As a "co-presentation" facility, says Runnals, the Southern is more like Northern Spark - "a platform for artists," who have lots of say over how the theater operates, not to mention its content.

New cycling museum taking shape on Central Avenue

The Twin Cities has an entrenched biking culture and a surprising history of local cycling innovations. Soon, MSP will have a cycling museum to celebrate those achievements, as well.

Three cycling enthusiasts, including the two founders of Recovery Bike Shop, are creating the Cycling Museum of Minnesota (CMM)—"an idea that's long overdue," says Nina Clark, Secretary of CMM's Board of Directors. The museum will open sometime in 2015, in the 4,000-square-foot, second floor suite above Recovery.

The idea for a cycling museum originated with Juston Anderson, the captain of the Minnesota chapter of The Wheelmen, a national organization "dedicated to keeping alive the heritage of American cycling," according to its website.

Over the years, CMM has accumulated dozens of bikes and bike-related artifacts from sponsors, including one of the oldest bike repair stands in existence, a solid racing wheel prototype from HED Cycling and the first Surly fat tire prototype. "We want to be a repository for those seminal artifacts," Clark says.

At the moment, CMM's collection is largely made up of items Anderson has loaned out. In turn, Recovery owners Brent Fuqua and Seth Stattmiller permit rent-free use of their second-floor space. But CMM is growing quickly: According to Clark, the organization has already had some success in soliciting donations, pledges and loans from individual biking enthusiasts and companies tied to the industry.

A fundraising/open house event in late July showcased items that represent various cycling eras. "The idea is to represent all periods" of cycling history, says Clark about the museum, while "keeping the focus on Minnesota."

The museum won't just be for physical artifacts. A self-described "biker about town," Clark is particularly interested in literature and exhibits that celebrate cycling's contributions to the development of the Twin Cities' park and trail systems, as well as the manufacturing and retail businesses that profit from growing interest cycling.

CMM's founders and directors envision the space as a force for advocacy, too. "We want to be advocates for cycling's benefits for health, the environment and sustainable urban development," Clark explains, "not just a static collection."

Significant donors can earn membership in one of three "Founders' Clubs": Silver Spoke for contributions of $50 to $249, Gold Spoke for $250 to $499, and Titanium Spoke for $500 to $1,000. Since the cost of refurbishing and maintaining items in a collection like CMM's increases proportionally with its size, the organization is exploring membership and/or sponsorship models that ensure positive cash flow.

 

Sisyphus, the bold new nanobrewery

After months of anticipation, Sisyphus Brewing Company opened its doors to the general public on July 11.The new nano-brewery, located in a former Dunwoody College of Technology storage space near the I-394/94 interchange, has a 100-seat taproom with local artwork, shuffleboard tables and exposed brickwork.That's the first phase.

A 100-seat performance space on the opposite side of its building is still under construction. And a massive, Kickstarter-funded mural on the north side of the building--facing busy I-394--is ready for admiration.

The beer is flowing, too.Owner and head brewer Sam Harriman unveiled four brews at the July 7 "thank you" party for Kickstarter contributors.The Kentucky Common, which is brewed with ingredients you'd find in a typical Kentucky bourbon, was chewy yet refreshing. The Oatmeal Pale Ale--"I've only tasted one other example of this before in the many beers I've tried," says Harriman--evokes several different styles without being derivative.

The black ale with coffee displayed the final stage of the "brewing" process, with Harriman's associate pouring an ounce or so of dark roast coffee into the freshly poured beer. The Brett IPA toed the line between brewer's dream and nightmare, using a wild strain of yeast (brettanomyces). Regarded as a malodorous contaminant in most styles of beer, brettanomyces imparts a sour, spicy, slightly floral note in the right doses. (It worked beautifully.)

"The brewing world is steeped in tradition, and that tradition says bringing brett into a production brewery is a dangerous proposition," says Harriman. "But others I've talked to do it successfully, and with proper cleaning we'll be able to do it successfully too...I view the use of brett as an opportunity to differentiate ourselves in the Twin Cities market."

Harriman is also cognizant of how the Twin Cities' brewery scene looks from an outsider's perspective. The region's craft beer advocates, he argues, can get so caught up in new brewery openings and locals' increasingly sophisticated palettes that they downplay the work that still needs to be done.

"People in the Twin Cities may think we have an awesome brewing culture, which we most certainly do," he says, "but we lag behind many, many cities in the US...to set ourselves apart, we need to do things that aren't being done here yet."

Harriman and the Sisyphus crew have no plans to step on other brewers' toes, though. They won't can or distribute, with the possible exception of a partnership with the Comedy Corner (in the basement of the Corner Bar).

Even that will require regulatory wrangling that Harriman doesn't yet have time for. And even if he wanted to, the taproom's volume would probably make that impossible. With a 2-barrel brewing setup, Sisyphus is officially the Twin Cities' only nanobrewery--the smallest brewery designation there is.

Since he can't brew much of any one brew, being small will actually help Harriman experiment with different styles and circle back to fan favorites. "I brew what I like to drink, and I have a really concrete idea about what I like," he says. "There are so many beers out there nowadays, and it takes something really special to stick out in your mind and make you come back for more...Inspiration and focus is what will set us apart in the long run."

A big part of that inspiration are Harriman's plans for a comedy/performance space in the still-in-progress section of his building. The timing of the buildout--and the opening of the space itself--will depend on the taproom's cash flow.

Harriman hesitated to give a timeframe, but was hopeful about its prospects: "If our customers like our beer enough," he says, "we'll be able to build out the other side of that space."

For now, the brewery is open between noon and 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Additional hours are in the works.

MSP earns high grades for small-business friendliness

On July 1, in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, online business directory Thumbtack released its annual small business survey of U.S. cities. Minneapolis-St. Paul finished in eleventh place and earned an overall "A" rating, falling behind several cities in Texas and smaller Mountain West towns like Colorado Springs and Boise.

The Thumbtack-Kauffman survey subjected the Twin Cities to more than a dozen measurements, based on responses from surveyed small business owners.The region earned an "A" grade for ease of starting a business and an "A+" for the availability of training and networking programs. It earned decent"'B+" grades for environmental and zoning regulations, and a "B" for health and safety. Licensing rules and employment, labor and hiring protocols came in at the '"B-" mark, with the local tax code and ease of hiring scoring "C+"

The Cities' rankings showed marked improvement over the past two years. Minneapolis-St. Paul's overall rating was "B+" in 2013 and "'B" in 2012. The change in availability of training and networking programs was particularly noteworthy, with a jump from "C-" to "A+" between last year and this year. The overall regulatory environment and ease of hiring improved significantly as well.

Although the Twin Cities could have scored higher in some areas, the region fared great next to some well-known locales. Buffalo, Providence, Sacramento, and San Diego earned "F" grades for overall business friendliness, and many other East and West Coast cities failed to clear the "D" bar. At the state level, California, Illinois and Rhode Island earned failing grades.

The survey also sourced subjective opinions from business owners across the Cities. Some of these were glowing: A Minneapolis-based designer reported that "I'm in a great location and have a lot of room for growth." Others were more skeptical of local governments' role in business, with a Minneapolis pet sitter complaining about the state sales tax on dog-walking services. 

Relatively high taxes, coupled with byzantine regulations, were a common complaint. But some respondents actually argued for a more hands-on approach by local regulators, including a Minneapolis voice teacher who complained that hands-off licensing was creating room for scam artists in the field.

Thumbtack's survey collected reponses from about 12,000 U.S. small business owners (in the Lower 48 only) over a two-month period in early 2014. For a copy of the full report, contact jon.lieber@thumbtack.com.

 

Pedalopolis takes to the streets with crowd-sourced rides

This week the Twin Cities BIKEFUN!'s Pedalopolis extravaganza will take to the streets. Pedalopolis is an annual "crowd-sourced festival of social bike rides" with dozens of user-generated events and themed rides. The celebration kicked off at 5 p.m. yesterday with a parade between Matthews Park and Powderhorn Park, where a potluck lasted into the evening. The parade's centerpiece was the enormous Pedal Bear, a "pedal-powered polar bear" built by the locally based ARTCRANK Collective.

The opening festivities were just the tip of the iceberg. "The Pedalopolis festival is an ever expanding work in progress," writes Nickey Robare, of Twin Cities BIKEFUN! "[We're] creating a space, and the community has stepped in to fill it up." The goal is to create a series of themed rides and gatherings around Minneapolis and St. Paul. BIKEFUN! accepted ideas from members of the public until shortly before the festivities began, with "room for any type of bike ride you can imagine," says Robare. (Awesomeness is encouraged.)

Participants have clearly had fun planning this year's event. Last night, riders could choose from a 15-mile mural tour of Minneapolis or a meditation-themed ride with the DharmaCore Queer Meditation Community. At noon today, the 2DCLOUD Bicycle Distro rounds up riders who'd like to distribute free books at community centers and other locations around the Cities.

This evening, the "It’s Your Birthday Bike Ride" asks riders to pretend it's their birthday and dress accordingly. (No actual birthdays required, according to TC BIKEFUN!'s website.) For a nightcap, St. Anthony Main Theater hosts a screening of "Half The Road: The Passion, Pitfalls, and Power of Women’s Professional Cycling," a film that looks at women's love for the sport and "the pressing issues of inequality that modern-day female athletes face in male dominated sports."  

Tomorrow, history and amenities are on the agenda. A 6:30 p.m. ride hits six "overlooked parks" in St. Paul, a simultaneous jaunt visits various architectural gems in the Seward neighborhood, and a 7 p.m. "Replacements Ride" takes a tour of locales mentioned in the Twin Cities band's songs and ends with a drink at the CC Club, a favorite haunt of theirs.

On Friday, the weekend begins in style with "Tour de Breweries," which includes a stop at Town Hall Brewery and other yet-to-be-named locations. At 11 p.m., the "Secret Society of Midnight Cyclists" meets to pedal to "a location known only to the [tour] leader," according to TC BIKEFUN!'s website.

Pedalopolis's last big event will take place at 9 p.m. on Saturday, at Bedlam Lowertown in St. Paul, with a "short jorts" dance party and a performance from River City Soul. The event, like all Pedalopolis gatherings, is free and open to the public. A "Hangover Ride" and other "day-after" activities will take place on Sunday.

In addition to Pedalopolis, its showcase celebration, BIKEFUN! also administers an online biking forum that connects Twin Cities cyclists with safe, community-themed activities in all seasons. In addition to establishing it as a key mode of transport for Twin Cities residents, the organization aims to make biking fun and accessible for kids and adults of all ages.
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