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Vidku's Flipgrid video sharing is disruptive tech force

In February 2015, Minneapolis startup Vidku raised $17 million in a 17-day Series A funding round led by Arthur Ventures, a Fargo-based venture capital group. The speed and size of Vidku’s fundraising effort was unusual: According to data from CrunchBase, the average Series A raised $6.9 million in 2014 and it often takes months to close a successful round.
 
So it’s no surprise that MSP’s investors and innovators sat up and took note of Vidku’s breakout success. CEO Jim Leslie attributes his company’s achievement both to the far-reaching capabilities of Flipgrid, its core “asynchronous video sharing” product, and the boundless belief of Vidku’s 35-plus employees.
 
“Our investors weren’t interested because they knew who [Vidku’s leaders] were or trusted us to execute,” says Leslie, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” who ran a handful of successful firms (and sold his most recent venture for a cool $100 million in 2011) before joining the Vidku team. “The passion of our entire team regarding Flipgrid’s future possibilities was infectious — our investors got as excited as we were” about Vidku and Flipgrid.
 
Users believe in Flipgrid, too. According to Leslie, the product has hosted more than 3 million video shares since its January 2014 launch, spreading chiefly through word of mouth. (Vidku has no formal marketing operation to speak of, though that may change in the future.)
 
Flipgrid admins, typically classroom educators, populate “grids” with video or text questions, prompting video responses from student users. Everyone with access to the grid can see and share the responses. There’s no limit to each grid’s capacity for questions and responses, though admins are limited to a specific number of grids per year — typically five to 10, or roughly one per class for full-time educators.
 
Though Flipgrid was originally designed for educators, Leslie is quick to point out that about 20 percent of the platform’s volume is devoted to non-educational use. Private businesses and government agencies use Flipgrid as a collaborative tool, while wedding planners and religious institutions leverage it to create more social events and environments.
 
“Flipgrid is a growing, powerful and highly effective technology tool that’s getting stronger all the time,” says Leslie. Following Vidku’s “design first” imperative, “we’re constantly developing new ways for users to participate.”
 
Vidku’s development activities have accelerated since the company spun out from an eight-person University of Minnesota team led by Dr. Charles Miller. Miller’s team is responsible for designing and building out Flipgrid’s base technology and critical elements. Leslie and co-founder Phil Soran, also a wildly successful tech entrepreneur, caught wind of Miller’s innovation and offered to form a private company capable of turning Flipgrid into a disruptive technological force.
 
“We were only interested in [spinning Flipgrid out of the U and forming Vidku] if [Miller’s] entire team was on board,” says Leslie. He didn’t need to worry: The response was an enthusiastic “yes.”
 
For Flipgrid’s core team and the U itself, the transition to private enterprise has thus far been smooth. All eight team members remain on staff at Vidku, generously compensated for their efforts and diligently working on the next big thing.
 
Perhaps more importantly, the U is a major shareholder in Vidku; Vidku’s success is quite literally the U’s success. Such public-private synergies, wherein universities drive innovation and investors provide the capital necessary to bring transformative ideas to market, are commonplace in established tech centers like Boston and Silicon Valley, says Leslie, but less so in MSP.
 
“A strong public-private linkage is the hallmark of a healthy entrepreneurial community,” he says. “We’re on the cusp of that here” in MSP.
 
In addition to Flipgrid, Vidku also offers a video-based assessment tool called Avenue. “Whereas Flipgrid is suited for discussions” and other forms of knowledge and experience delivery, Leslie explains, “Avenue is ideal for more formally assessing knowledge.”
 
Vidku’s team also handles development work for Passport, a language-learning application initially developed by St. Paul-based EMC Publishing. Though Vidku doesn’t own Passport, Fligrid and Passport are kindred spirits with the same lofty goal: reducing friction and improving knowledge delivery in the classroom.
 
Later this year, Vidku plans to launch an application that offers a “significant enhancement” to Flipgrid’s capabilities, says Leslie. The new update “is the first tangible fruit of our intensive development efforts” since spinning off from the U, he adds, though he’s mum on the software’s specifics.
 

U of M entrepreneurs launch Lionheart Cider

Seven recent graduates of the University of Minnesota, who met in the Carlson School’s Entrepreneurship in Action class, are taking the course’s title to heart. Within weeks of coming together last fall, the group had hatched an idea for a homegrown premium hard cider brand called Lionheart Cider.
 
Thanks in part to ample startup funding secured through Entrepreneurship in Action, Lionheart was a student division semi-finalist in the 2015 MN Cup — a huge leap for a concept that has yet to see its first birthday.
 
Lionheart closed its first production round last month and is now on shelves in about 120 liquor stores in MSP and surrounding areas, with Artisan Beer Company handling distribution. The suggested retail price on its 16-ounce can 4-packs is $7.99, which co-founder Anna Lin says is “affordable” relative to other premium craft cider brands.
 
Co-founder Jason Dayton, one half of an avid father-son home cidermaking team, developed Lionheart’s “not too sweet” recipe. “Lionheart is designed for people who find popular brands like Angry Orchard to sweet,” Lin says.
 
Lionheart’s co-founders aren’t typical startup types. Some were finance and business majors, but others focused on journalism (like Lin), agriculture and music during their undergrad years. All are first-time entrepreneurs “who don’t always know what we’re doing,” says Lin, who admits that the group has quibbled over plans and tactics.
 
“But the difficult periods present the greatest learning opportunities,” she adds.
 
Some Lionheart co-founders do have entrepreneurial pedigrees, including Lin herself. Lin’s father, a former truck driver, worked his way into the fueling industry shortly after China’s economy liberalized in the 1980s. He now owns a thriving gas station business. Not to be outdone, her mother runs two coffee shop franchises in China.
 
“[My parents’] hard work is why I’m here in Minnesota, speaking a second language fluently, meeting amazing people,” and learning firsthand what it takes to be an entrepreneur, says Lin.
 
In the near term, Lionheart’s team is looking forward to soliciting customer feedback on its original cider recipe and growing its Minnesota account base. But Dayton and the rest of the group are already mulling new flavors and styles within the “not too sweet” universe, plus an expanded distribution footprint.
 
“We eventually hope to have several varieties and distribute in multiple states, perhaps even nationally,” says Lin.
 
Lin herself may not take part in Lionheart’s long-term growth. Her current visa expires next year, and she’ll have to find work in journalism or a related field — and a sponsorship from any potential employer (Lionheart may not count) — to qualify for a longer-term work visa that allows her to stay in the United States. Given federal work visa caps and intense competition from highly qualified candidates, Lin knows she might not make the cut — though she’s eternally optimistic.
 
Regardless of how Lionheart’s leadership team — or the company itself — looks in three years, the experience has already been immensely rewarding for Lin and her colleagues. “It’s an amazing blessing to be able to come [to the United States] and work on a project like this,” she says. “I never would have hung out with or spoken to any of [my colleagues] were it not for Lionheart.”
 

Artist Cindy Lindgren debuts City of Lakes fabric line

Prolific MSP artist Cindy Lindgren is teaming up with Modern Yardage, a digital fabric printing company, to launch a Minneapolis-centric fabric line called “City of Lakes.” Lindgren debuted City of Lakes this May at the International Quilt Market, a national trade show. The fabrics feature iconic Minneapolis images, including Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and Lake Harriet, plus the downtown skyline, Uptown theater marquee, bikes and Nordic skis.
 
“City of Lakes is my tribute to the wonderful chain of lakes and all the activities we love to participate in, whether it's music, nature or biking,” Lindgren explains.
 
The City of Lakes concept could soon go national. “[City of Lakes] got a lot of attention” at the International Quilt Market, says Lindgren. She’s already been approached by several other U.S. cities about custom-designed hometown fabric lines. She plans to finish work on her first two non-MSP city lines — Appleton, Wisconsin, and Watkins Glen, New York — in the coming months, with an eye to snagging additional clients and selling her work in local stores.
 
For now, Lindgren is throwing her multi-pronged marketing operation behind City of Lakes. She sells the fabrics themselves through Modern Yardage, her preferred fabric production partner. “Modern Yardage prints fabric on demand, so it can offer niche themes to their customers,” she says, giving “designers...a lot of freedom to create unique designs not offered by other large fabric companies.”
 
Lindgren sells City of Lakes prints and cards at her personal Etsy shop and “various gift shops and stores around MSP,” including The Minnesota History Center, Bibelot, The University of Minnesota Book Store and The Como Conservatory. Suburban outposts, such as the Mall of America’s Afternoon Store and Edina’s West Elm outlet, offer Lindgren’s work as well.
 
Lindgren also maintains a fruitful collaborative relationship with The Linden Tree, a specialty fabric shop and creative hub in Linden Hills. Linden Tree staffers consulted closely with Lindgren during the City of Lakes project’s design phase, produced prototype samples and reserved ample shelf space for the finished products.
 
Though MSP will always be City of Lakes fabrics’ natural home, Lindgren is actively seeking licensing partnerships with printers, retailers and apparel-makers in Minnesota and beyond. Current licensees include Great Arrow Graphics, Check Advantage (a personal check printer) and Janome (pending).
 
Lindgren describes her artistic style as “Craftsman Nouveau,” which include such stylistic hallmarks as “rich color palettes” and clean lines.
 
“My inspiration comes from William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright and the WPA-era posters,” says Lindgren. “I'm also influenced by my midwestern upbringing and choose to illustrate the places, plants, flowers and birds around me.”
 
 

mini_polis debuts at Creative City Market

mini_polis, the winner of Minneapolis’ third annual Creative City Challenge, will be on display August 13 at the second Creative City Market, held from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza. mini_polis will be on display at the plaza for the third and final Creative City Market, on September 10, and remain outdoors until October 15.
 
Dubbed “a miniature city of collective imagination,” mini_polis is a scale model of downtown Minneapolis some 50 feet in diameter.
 
Unlike the past two Creative City Challenge winners, which were constructed by small teams of dedicated artists, mini_polis is the fruit of dozens of professional and amateur craftspeople’s labor. SocialSculpture, a Minneapolis-based sculpture collective led by Niko Kubota, oversaw the basic design and provided pre-made kits for guided construction of individual houses and apartment buildings at five supervised workshops held in April and May this year. Staff members from Leonardo’s Basement were on hand at all five workshops to guide less experienced makers. All participants were invited to record their stories and thoughts for a multimedia station that accompanies mini_polis on the Convention Center Plaza.
 
mini_polis’s miniature buildings are surrounded by gentle ramps and walkways that follow the outline of Minneapolis’ Interstate highways, allowing viewers (including those in wheelchairs) to enter and explore the sculpture. According to mini_polis’s website, visitors can “respond to builder’s dreams…[and] make their own place-specific comments about the city” using chalkboard paint on the sculpture’s surface.
 
mini_polis’s showcase event, Creative City Market, is no less engaging. The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild will be on hand to pour local craft beer favorites, with fair food (roasted corn, brats and hot dogs) for sustenance. The plaza’s performance space hosts local musician Mayda from 5 to 6, the Milu Milu Couture fashion show from 6 to 6:30, and spoken word performances (various artists) from 7 to 9. A locally produced movie, presented by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Film Society, will be shown. Local makers and vendors — painters, tattoo artists, textile and jewelry specialists, potters and others — will mingle with the crowd, educating and delighting patrons.
 
“Creative City Market is a free monthly experience in the heart of our downtown that celebrates the art of making,” says Kristen Montag, Meet Minneapolis communications and public relations manager.
 
Creative City Market is sponsored by the Minneapolis Convention Center, the City of Minneapolis and Meet Minneapolis, with support from Northern Lights.mn and the Musicant Group.
 

SaundersDailey launches real estate web platform

SaundersDailey, a first-of-its-kind web platform by local real estate veteran Marshall Saunders and digital marketing whiz Jason Dailey, is empowering MSP locals to invest in the region’s accelerating real estate market — without actually moving into the properties they help build or buy.
 
Saunders’ and Dailey’s platform is the latest innovation in the equity crowdfunding space — an emerging financial sector, made legal by the sweeping federal JOBS Act of 2012, that allows people who meet certain financial requirements to make small but meaningful equity investments in a variety of asset classes.
 
“Equity crowdfunding appeals to investors who want to support promising ideas and assets,” as they would on classic crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, says Saunders. “The difference is that it allows investors to take an actual stake in the asset,” and, hopefully, see a return on their investment.
 
SaundersDailey officially debuted at a July 14 launch party in Minneapolis’ Kenwood neighborhood. The company began with a single investment opportunity: Residential Fund One, a bundle that includes more than a dozen residential properties throughout the region. “Residential Fund One is basically a local real estate mutual fund,” says Saunders.
 
According to Saunders, future investment opportunities — including some that should become available in the coming weeks — will focus on discrete properties, mostly multifamily residential buildings. Saunders cites a seven-unit building on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, currently part of Residential Fund One, as an ideal SaundersDailey property.
 
For now, SaundersDailey owns, or has under contract, most of the properties listed on the site. But in the future, SaundersDailey plans to serve as a sort of clearinghouse for property owners and developers looking to raise funds for their own investments.
 
The platform already has one listed property that it doesn’t directly own: a retirement community in New Ulm, Minnesota. The community’s owners pay SaundersDailey to use the site and put its offering in front of a growing cohort of MSP-based investors; Saunders is betting that this arrangement will appear increasingly attractive to property owners who might otherwise struggle to attract backers.
 
Saunders says SaundersDailey is developing a thorough vetting process for future third-party property listings. He sees SaundersDailey-owned properties representing the bulk of the company’s business for the foreseeable future, but estimates that third-party listings “could represent 20 to 25 percent of our revenue stream” over the medium to long term.
 
Most SaundersDailey properties, including third-party listings, are residential. “Residential is what I know best,” says Saunders, who cut his chops at the helm of RE/MAX Results, now Minnesota’s third-largest residential real estate brokerage. In the future, SaundersDailey may “dabble” in commercial real estate, but Saunders expects residential to remain the focus. And though Saunders doesn’t categorically rule out the possibility of expanding to other midwestern markets, he’s cautious about setting his sights too high, due both to stricter legal standards for interstate offerings and the simple fact that “every market is different.”
 
For MSP residents keen to own a piece of the region’s hot real estate market without actually buying a house or condo themselves, SaundersDailey has a big catch. By law, the platform can only accept investments from accredited investors — individuals who earn at least $200,000 per year (or married couples earning at least $300,000 per year) on a consistent basis, or individuals worth at least $1 million.
 
Saunders is optimistic that the laws restricting equity crowdfunding investments to accredited investors will change as the concept goes mainstream. He’s also hopeful that regulations made possible by the recently passed MNvest legislation will ease the burden for non-accredited investors, though he estimates a year or more will pass before those regulations are ready.
 

COCO sets up fourth coworking location in Northeast

Nordeast continues its growth boom with the addition of COCO. In June, COC) revealed the location of its fourth coworking space — 1400 Van Buren Street NE — in a century-old building that’s been almost totally remodeled and updated to meet the demands of the modern workspace.
 
COCO’s Northeast Minneapolis outpost joins locations in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, and Uptown Minneapolis. The Northeast location is also right around the corner from another Nordeast fixture that’s also in the midst of a growth boom: Indeed Brewery. Bauhaus BrewLabs is just across Central Avenue, too. Thirsty COCO tenants certainly won’t lack for happy hour options at their new digs.
 
COCO Northeast looks to be a bit cozier than the two downtown locations. According to the release announcing the move, the new space will feature 10 closed-door startup suites designed for two- to 14-person teams. These suites function as separate offices with all the benefits of COCO membership; rents are likely to be in-line with or lower than prevailing rents for standalone suites in Northeast.
 
COCO Northeast also has plans for six campsites, semi-open — literally tented, in some cases — workspaces designed for teams of four to eight. For “solopreneurs” and remote workers, the space will feature 14 standalone, dedicated desks arranged in a bullpen-style configuration. A mishmash of tables, benches and standing areas, all perfect for solo work in a social environment, will flesh out the main space. Off the common bullpen, COCO plans to make five meeting rooms available for meetings and group presentations. The common area is available for meetings, too, though privacy is limited.
 
Tours of the entire space are available on Fridays at 11 am. Prospective members are encouraged to register online; others should contact COCO directly for arrangements.
 
COCO’s new space has a tech-y pedigree: It’s the former home of Sport Ngin, an MSP-made software platform that provides comprehensive web publishing and management solutions for sports organizations. Sport Ngin vacated the space for larger digs a few blocks south, at the corner of Broadway Street NE and Quincy Street NE.
 
COCO’s move adds mass to an emerging tech cluster running along Central Avenue NE, from roughly 18th Avenue NE in the north to St. Anthony Main in the south — the heart of Nordeast’s startup scene. In addition to Sport Ngin, the area is already home to BuzzFeed, SmartThings and Code42, among dozens of smaller startups.
 

Handsome creates centennial bikes inspired by MIA's artworks

Handsome Cycles and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts have entered into what could be MSP’s coolest creative partnership so far this year. In celebration of its 100th year, the MIA commissioned Handsome to create three custom cycles inspired by works in the museum’s world-famous collection. Handsome and MIA unveiled the bikes at MIA’s most recent Third Thursday event, on July 16. The event, dubbed “Bike Night,” turned into a celebration of all things bike.
 
Cyclists pedaled to the event from St. Paul’s Onmium Bike Shop. When they arrived, they were invited to bike right through MIA’s front doors and into its atrium. Minneapolis’ One on One Bikes was on hand with free bike checks, and both One on One and Twin Six unveiled new bike gear at adjacent booths.
 
Key MSP bike advocacy groups, including the Midtown Greenway Coalition, 30 Days of Biking and Powderhorn 24, were on hand. Custom frame builders, including Peacock Groove and Prairie Cow, networked with discerning cyclists.
 
“[MIA’s] continued support of the bike community is absolutely amazing,” says Jesse Erickson, Handsome Cycles co-founder and COO.
 
The custom bike design process unfolded over the course of several months. “Handsome Cycles...shares the museum’s commitment to embracing the local and integrating great design, technology and experimentation, while staying true to its core values and community,” says Hunter Wright, MIA’s Venture Innovation Director.
 
Handsome Cycles took inspiration from several works in MIA’s collection, notably the 1948 Tatra T87 Sedan, a petite car housed in an MIA hall; Claude Monet’s Grainstack; and Frank Stella’s Tahkt-I-Sulayman Variation II. The finished bikes blended the inspiration works’ color schemes, shapes and themes in attractive, functional packages that looked (and rode) like regular bikes.
 
The MIA-Handsome partnership didn’t end on July 16. Handsome Cycles is making a limited number of “MIA bikes” available for sale in its Northeast Minneapolis store and through MIA’s gift shop. The sleek single-speed bikes, available in white or black frames, are listed at about $1,100 on Handsome’s website.
 

International Impact Hub opens MSP office for entrepreneurship

Minnesota Social Impact Center, a North Loop coworking and social entrepreneurship organization charged with “connecting change agents” from disparate professions and walks of life, is now Impact Hub Minneapolis-St. Paul.
 
The name change is about more than semantics. Impact Hub Minneapolis-St. Paul joins more than 80 other Impact Hubs worldwide — the latest addition to a disparate network of cohesively branded, locally controlled organizations that offer “a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration and collaboration opportunities to grow the positive impact of the work of impact-focused innovators,” says Danielle Steer, Impact Hub’s manager of operations and member services.
 
As part of the global Impact Hub network, Impact Hub Minneapolis-St. Paul gains access to a “shared international database” that leverages the experiences and expertise of Impact Hub’s global membership, dubbed “Hubbers.” The global Impact Hub network provides consulting and logistical support to each member organization, a helpful perk as Impact Hub Minneapolis-St. Paul grows its membership and deepens ties to the MSP community.
 
With a much higher profile and the cachet of an international social entrepreneurship brand behind it, Impact Hub Minneapolis-St. Paul is “actively seeking organizational partners, financial support and more members to make this venture a success,” says Steer. The board is also expecting to outgrow its North Loop “prototype space” and is looking for larger digs nearby. And Impact Hub Minneapolis-St. Paul is looking to expand its day-to-day programming and special event schedule, building off a launch event in May and a just-finished meeting/event space at its current headquarters.
 
Before the organization could officially adopt the Impact Hub brand, Steer, her teammates and Impact Hub’s six-member board of directors (led by board chair Terri Barreiro and staffed, among others, by organization founder Katie Kalkman) put the question to an up-or-down vote of the full Impact Hub membership.
 
According to Steer, preparing the necessary applications and supplemental materials — including a polished team video — took the better part of a year. Throughout the process, Steer and her colleagues solicited input from Impact Hubs that had recently achieved full membership in the global network: Impact Hub Sydney (Australia), Impact Hub Oakland, Impact Hub Boulder and Impact Hub Malaysia.
 
The Impact Hub concept was born in Vienna, Austria, and now has a presence on four continents. Impact Hub Minneapolis-St. Paul is the first and only Impact Hub in The North; other U.S. locations include Boston, New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco.
 
 

Cologix deal secures MSP's position as Internet hub

Minneapolis’ status as the Internet hub of The North (and IOT, or Internet of Things), is now even more secure. Just months after opening an ultra-connected “Meet Me Room” in a new, state-of-the-art facility at the 511 Building in downtown Minneapolis, Cologix has announced a high-profile partnership with Nebraska-based Great Plains Communications, a network provider for carriers and enterprise clients across the Heartland.
 
The deal sees Great Plains establishing a major presence, known as a Point of Presence (POP), at Cologix’s Minneapolis data center, colloquially known as a “carrier hotel.” Great Plains’ Minneapolis POP will serve about 75 clients in MSP, greater Minnesota and other areas throughout The North.
 
According to Lynn Mead, Great Plains’ head of carrier and wholesale communications, the new POP is part of a major expansion and modernization drive that includes the laying of about 5,000 miles of additional broadband fiber in Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota.
 
“Across our markets, we saw new demand from customers seeking connectivity into Minnesota, including both carrier and enterprise clients,” says Mead. “Our customers want low latency and high bandwidth connections into The North” — two advantages Cologix’s carrier hotel, part of the “most connected building in Minneapolis,” is equipped to provide.
 
“Cologix’s Minneapolis facility is designed very well and the staff accommodates customers by ensuring the framework to extend fiber is in place,” she adds.
 
Cologix’s staff is thrilled to have another high-profile partner to add to the likes of Netflix, a key bandwidth user at its carrier hotel.
 
“We are thrilled to add a prominent company like Great Plains Communications to the ecosystem of our Minneapolis data center,” says Mike Hemphill, general manager at Cologix’s Minneapolis facility. “As we continue to increase the fiber connectivity with a robust collection of carriers, the network fabric of [The North] is strengthened to sustain the increasing demand we continue to see in this market.”
 
Cologix’s carrier hotel isn’t the only super-connected hub in MSP. The area is home to several other major data centers, most clustered at or near the intersection of several high-traffic fiber lines in downtown Minneapolis. For instance, the AT&T Building hosts IronGate’s main data center, which itself hosts dozens of network providers and high-bandwidth enterprise clients.
 
MSP has emerged as the Internet hub of The North — the most connected place between Chicago and Seattle, and the north-central United States’ only real data center alternative to Chicago — for a host of economic reasons. Two are worth singling out.
 
In 2011, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a 20-year tax holiday on qualifying data center investments, including infrastructure and power generation. That dramatically lowers the cost of opening and maintaining data centers here.
 
MSP’s climate helps, too. The long cold season reduces year-round cooling bills — typically a huge overhead expense for data centers, which are prone to overheating. In places like Dallas and Jacksonville, both popular data center hubs with famously scorching summers, cooling costs can eat into centers’ profits and raise costs for carriers and enterprise clients.
 
 
 

Slow, steady start to MSP's medical marijuana industry

Medical cannabis or marijuana officially became legal statewide on July 1, with MSP quickly emerging as the de facto hub for sales and cultivation. Two MSP-area companies, Minnesota Medical Solutions (MinnMed) and LeafLine Labs, are leading the way.
 
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, more than 200 healthcare practitioners were certified to recommend patients for medical marijuana during the first month of registrations. About 100 patients are certified to purchase medical marijuana statewide, though that number is expected to increase as the state works through its backlog of patient applications and more providers come online.
 
MinnMed’s flagship clinic, where medical marijuana cardholders can purchase cannabis oil and other derivatives, recently moved into the old League of Catholic Women space in downtown Minneapolis. LeafLine’s first clinic is located in suburban Eagan.
 
Each organization plans three more dispensaries around the state: MinnMed in Moorhead, Rochester and Eden Prairie; LeafLine in St. Paul, St. Cloud and Hibbing. LeafLine grows its product at a tightly controlled, 24-acre facility in suburban Cottage Grove, while MinnMed works a state-of-the-art greenhouse complex in rural Otsego.
 
Combined, LeafLine and MinnMed have already raised about $30 million in venture capital funding, with more potentially in the works. But with some of the nation’s most restrictive medical cannabis laws here in Minnesota, it could be a while before funders see a return on their investment. Unlike California, Colorado, Washington State and other pro-cannabis states, Minnesota — even liberal MSP — won’t have ostentatious storefront dispensaries or open-to-the-public cannabis clubs anytime soon.
 
‘‘The [national] industry doesn’t do it this way,’’ MinnMed principal Dr. Kyle Kingsley said in a recent interview with the Boston Globe. ‘‘It’s all new.’’
 
The law also sets strict qualifying standards for prospective patients. Patients need to demonstrate — and healthcare providers must confirm — that their conditions are truly debilitating or life threatening. Qualifying conditions include glaucoma; Crohn’s disease; cancer or cancer treatment associated with nausea, vomiting, wasting and/or severe pain; HIV/AIDS; seizure disorders; severe muscle spasms, such as caused by multiple sclerosis; ALS; and Tourette’s Syndrome.
 
To promote safer modes of ingestion and prevent patients from smoking their medicine, Minnesota’s law forbids direct sales of plant material. Instead, producers are required to extract the plant’s active ingredients, condensing them into potent oils that can be incorporated into pill capsules, oral sprays, tinctures, suspensions and oils designed to be heated, vaporized and inhaled.
 
Dosages vary between and within each mode. Both MinnMed and LeafLife offer detailed dosing instructions to patients and healthcare providers, with MinnMed advocating a “start low, go slow” approach for patients unfamiliar with marijuana’s effects. Over time, each patient is encouraged to develop a customized dosing regimen in consultation with their healthcare provider.
 
“Different patients have different needs, and there are a lot of compounds in cannabis that are helpful to patients,” said Kingsley in a recent interview with KSTP. “[W]e want to...make these medications for specific patients.”
 
 

Hidrate: New tech ensures proper hydration

Though debate continues as to whether the average person needs eight glasses of water per day, many of us still forget to stay hydrated when we’re busy. Hidrate co-founder and recent University of Minnesota graduate Nadya Nguyen found out the hard way.
 
On the bus home from a 10-hour volunteer shift at TEDxMinneapolis, Nguyen felt faint and disoriented. Her head was pounding. With effort, she recounted the events of her jam-packed day and realized that she hadn’t taken a single sip of water since the morning. She simply hadn’t had the time, to say nothing of the mental bandwidth necessary, to stop what she was doing and take a drink.
 
Then it hit her: In the age of cloud-connected smartphones and tiny, powerful sensors, she didn’t need to remember to drink water. She could simply build an app that connected to a special water bottle that would remind her to hydrate. Along with three other recent U of M grads, she built out the app and a prototype water bottle—called Hidrate—during least year’s Twin Cities Startup Weekend.
 
“It’s so easy to forget to take care of yourself when life gets busy,” says Nguyen. “I wanted to create something that would make life better for people in this small but important way.”
 
The idea is breathtakingly simple: Users download the app for free on their phones and enter personal parameters (weight and other factors), location (temperature, relative humidity and altitude can affect water needs), and daily activity level, editing over time as this information changes. Hidrate uses this data to create a personal “daily water goal,” expressed in both ounces and water bottle equivalents. The app syncs with a 24-ounce, BPA-free, dishwasher-safe water bottle that can sense its own fill level and updates your total daily intake whenever you take a sip. If you go too long without drinking, a reminder message appears on your phone; if you really fall behind, the bottle glows gently until your fluid intake gets back on pace.
 
Hidrate isn’t the first smart water bottle to hit the market. But the talented, driven team enjoys the benefits of a heavily discounted shared workspace at Startup Venture Loft in the North Loop — a huge help for any startup operating on a shoestring budget.
 
The company’s Kickstarter campaign, launched June 1, had a seemingly ambitious goal: $35,000. Thanks to tremendous support from what Nguyen calls “a dedicated group of early adopters” and a high-visibility mention in widely read tech publication TechCrunch, the campaign blew through that ceiling in a couple days, notching nearly $200,000 from more than 2,500 individual donors in its first week. Everyone who donates $39 or more gets a personal bottle, with delivery expected in December 2015 or January 2016.
 
The Kickstarter campaign’s proceeds will mostly cover costs for the initial bottle-manufacturing round, which is likely to be larger than expected given the campaign’s success. Nguyen and the team are still working out a retail price for the bottle, but “it’ll probably be in the $39 to $45 range,” she says.
 
For now, interested buyers can reserve a bottle — in the color of their choosing — on Hidrate’s website. Longer-term, Nguyen expects to sell through gyms, sporting goods stores and other retailers. The team is already courting potential partners, though nothing’s ready to announce.
 
“We’re willing to work with any gym, specialty store or retailer that caters to our customer base,” says Nguyen. “We’ve been blown away by early demand for the product and can’t wait for the next phase of our growth.”

 
Hidrate Jobs in Minneapolis
 
  1. iOS Mobile Developer
  2. Android Mobile Developer

 

Field Nation expands, offers colocation space

 
Field Nation, an online work platform that connects skilled IT contractors with companies that need to complete time-sensitive tasks or fill temporary positions, recently doubled in size after acquiring Field Solutions, its main competitor in the Upper Midwest. The acquisition boosted Field Nation’s internal employee count from about 50 to more than 100, and allowed the company to double down on its innovation, MSP-made business model.
 
Field Nation chief marketing officer Billy Cripe expects the firm to “grow into” its new offices in the AT&T Building in downtown Minneapolis. But rather than let half of its square footage languish, the firm’s management team landed on an ingenious idea: a free, fully wired coworking — Cripe prefers “colocation” — space where Field Nation’s out-of-town contractors, clients and kindred spirits can set up shop for a day or two as they go about their business in MSP.
 
“The recent move left us with all this extra space,” says Cripe. “We thought, ‘Why not open a free colocation space?’”
 
Field Nation’s colocation “tenants” come and go on the honor system. Field Nation doesn’t formally assign a gatekeeper or space manager, though employees do approve (or invite) and keep tabs on everyone who passes through. Stays typically last a couple days, rarely longer than a week.
 
For instance, video game maker and existing Field Nation client Activision recently sent a team to MSP to meet with executives at Target and Best Buy. The team approached Field Nation about using the colocation space as a home away from home during their brief trip. Cripe and the team were happy to oblige.
 
Tenants that need a longer-term office space, whether they’re permanently relocating to MSP or transitioning out of a home office, can leverage Field Nation’s ongoing partnership with CoCo to make arrangements.
 
“We don’t want to be the go-to for people who need a permanent coworking option,” explains Cripe. “But we definitely want our office to be a launching and landing pad for on-the-go professionals.”
 
Field Nation’s new colocation space is a great fit for an ambitious, growing company that fosters flexible connections between talented contractors and labor-seeking employers. Field Nation’s “contingent workforce” platform doesn’t require upfront payment from contractors or employers; the company simply takes a cut from payments for completed work before forwarding the remainder to the worker.
 
Jobs come in many different forms, from multi-month “distributed projects” that require dozens of workers in multiple locations to 15-minute gigs “that contractors can fit in as they’re driving home from their regular job,” says Cripe.
 
For contractors, Field Nation offers a more secure and predictable payment system than “a la carte” work arrangements that can take months to produce a paycheck — if one comes at all. And the company provides each worker with a single 1099 for all gigs completed through Field Nation, regardless of how many individual clients were involved — dramatically simplifying tax-time paperwork.
 
For clients, Field Nation provides a large, reliable, on-demand pool of skilled, often formally credentialed technicians and IT professionals. Clients and contractors are free to negotiate rates; a mutual rating system controls quality and mitigates disagreements. According to Cripe, Field Nation’s goal is simple: “We’re cutting out the middleman” — i.e., traditional staffing agencies — “and making it easier to get work done.”
 

Ginger Consulting's mavens know what women want

In the groan-inducing 2000 film What Women Want, Mel Gibson’s misogynistic executive used an acquired ability to hear women’s thoughts to amusing, mostly self-serving ends.
 
Mary Van Note and Beth Perro-Jarvis, MSP-based Ginger Consulting’s co-founders, can’t read minds. But thanks to decades of marketing experience and a comprehensive, highly authoritative survey for female householders, they’ve got a pretty good handle on what drives women consumers in MSP and across the country — certainly more so than Gibson’s fictional mind-reading cad.
 
Van Note and Perro-Jarvis released their sixth annual “What Women Want” survey in April. The survey touched on of-the-moment health trends, like juicing and the Paleo diet, plus political issues, personal finance, household division of labor, popular culture and more.
 
Some of the headline findings were surprising. For instance, nearly two-thirds of survey respondents believe the “latest diet and nutrition trends” — i.e., Paleo — are “just fads.” A similar proportion claimed to be fine with making dinner at home every night. And more than a quarter believed that Hillary Clinton and any other female Presidential candidates in the 2016 election cycle will be judged more harshly than male candidates — in other words, that voters hold prospective women leaders to a higher standard.
 
The “What Women Want” survey processes responses from Ginger Consulting’s Alpha Panel, a 350-strong cohort of hand-selected women, most of them affluent and well-educated.
 
“The Alpha Panel isn’t a random sample,” explains Van Note. “We have longstanding relationships with most of these women and value their input in a way that goes beyond many other consumer surveys.” Ginger’s partners are particularly dismissive of teen surveys, which are highly sought after by marketers due to teens’ notoriously fickle tastes — but can be unreliable to the point of uselessness precisely because teens are so fickle.
 
By contrast, “our ‘alpha-females’ are a representative sample of America’s largest consumer group — the powerhouse that buys and sells 85 percent of all products bought and sold in the U.S.,” says Perro-Jarvis, referring to the single and family-attached women who make the vast majority of purchasing decisions, often on behalf of domestic partners and dependents. “Naturally, they have a lot to say about the marketplace, and life in it.”
 
In many ways, Perro-Jarvis and Van Note epitomize their Alpha Panel. Whip-smart, both left prominent positions at Fallon (the two were team members for some time, in fact) to work on their own terms and achieve that elusive work-life balance.
 
“The world of marketing and advertising is incredibly stressful and not particularly conducive to raising a family,” says Van Note. “At the same time, we were having these back-of-the-napkin conversations about what it would look like if we went into business together.”
 
During those conversations, the pair decided to focus more on big-picture, data-driven strategy instead of the full-service marketing work typically done by larger agencies.
 
“We don’t have the resources to manage the teams we’d need to execute client campaigns,” explains Perro-Jarvis. “We’ve found a niche as ‘strategy outsourcing’ specialists who consult on high-level tactics, custom research, ideation and brand strategy.”
 
“We’re basically strategic brains for hire,” she adds.
 
Now that they’re masters of their own destiny, Van Note and Perro-Jarvis are reaping the rewards. “We take calls in line at Target, work out of home offices and structure our workdays around other obligations,” says Perro-Jarvis.
 
“Who wants an office anyway?” she laughs. “It’s just another place to clean up.”
 

Prodality's customer-first approach to tech solutions

A while back, as Prodality co-founder Parag Shah scanned a credit card statement, he noticed a restaurant charge that seemed suspiciously high. Though he couldn’t remember the bill’s exact amount, he recalled the meal well enough to know he’d been overcharged. But Shah couldn’t find his receipt, and thus couldn’t confront the restaurant about the mistake.
 
“I hate paper, so I probably just threw the receipt out after signing,” says Shah. “But the experience made me ask why I didn’t have the option to receive my receipt by email and search through an archive of all my purchases.” Such an archive would also help with returns that required a receipt, he reasoned.
 
Shah set about developing the searchable receipt database that would become PurchaseBox. He soon saw the value in including promo emails in the concept: “The average person gets way too many promotional messages to keep track of, even with email systems like Gmail [which collects promo emails in a separate inbox],” explains Shah. “Most people just delete them as they come in, even if there’s a chance that they’d come in handy at a later time.”
 
By organizing retailer-specific promotional emails in a searchable database, PurchaseBox makes it easier for consumers to call up and use coupons while shopping online or in-store. Each PurchaseBox user gets an @purchasebox.com email account to which retailers can send digital offers and receipts. (Users can also photograph and upload paper receipts to their accounts, though that’s likely to become less common as more retailers switch to digital receipts.)
 
PurchaseBox exemplifies the customer-first approach to big-picture technology solutions of its parent company, Prodality. From its office near Uptown, Prodality is honing a unique business-building approach that could have a big impact on MSP’s burgeoning startup economy.
 
Shah, who serves as founder and chief executive, runs Prodality with business partner Whitney Johnson, who serves as director of marketing and oversees the company’s day-to-day operations. According to Johnson, Prodality is a “mix between a startup incubator and a capital investment firm.” Prodality turns ideas into new subsidiaries, taking an equity stake in every concept that makes it past the idea stage.
 
To get each new business off the ground, Prodality’s core team offers “labor support” during the startup phase, says Johnson, then builds “specific teams around each company as they continue to grow.” Prodality's startups are structured as separate legal entities, not departments of Prodality itself.
 
Prodality focuses on “big ideas” that can potentially achieve seven- or eight-figure valuations within three to five years, Shah says. “Before launching a new idea, we ask ourselves, is it a large enough opportunity?” he explains. “If the answer is ‘no,’ we don’t pursue it.”
 
Prodality’s ideas generally focus on business and consumer needs, depending on the company. Its most successful subsidiary to date, BookBottles, is an event management platform that caters to nightclub and entertainment venue owners. Regardless of target audience, Prodality’s startups must be cost-effective and “bootstrappable,” backed by software systems — either web or mobile — capable of being rolled out within weeks.
 
“One of the biggest advantages of our model is that it’s scalable,” says Shah. “We’ve put together a framework for providing the seed funding and labor to develop apps and other necessary technologies really quickly.”
 
Prodality’s model is attractive to local and national tech investors, who have participated in multiple funding rounds for the firm’s most successful startups. The ultimate goal of any Prodality backed startup, says Shah, is a full exit: the sale of Prodality’s stake to another firm or investment group. Prodality reinvests the proceeds of these sales into new ideas, some of which — hopefully — eventually make it through the same cycle.
 
As for PurchaseBox, it’s still early days. The app remains invite-only as the team works on functionality enhancements and tests new features, which Johnson says are critical to PurchaseBox’s eventual success. Current users tend to be tech-savvy “early adopters,” she says. “We count on experienced technology users to evangelize the product for us, and we always welcome feedback that helps us focus our development efforts.”
 
“The goal is to make PurchaseBox as user-friendly, seamless and convenient as possible,” Johnson adds. “Those attributes are what will ultimately drive adoption.”
 
According to Shah and Johnson, PurchaseBox is planning a big push — aided, again, by its early users — to put the app in front of retailers in MSP and beyond. “Our goal is to build a base of at least one million users” in the near term, says Shah. “Hitting that target will create a compelling value proposition for merchants and encourage adoption.”
 
Though one million users sounds like an ambitious target for an app that’s still technically in beta mode, Shah and Johnson clearly believe in PurchaseBox’s potential. And they’re fresh off a big visibility boost: PurchaseBox was one of a few hundred startups (out of 15,000 applicants) to appear at this year’s Collision, an annual tech expo held in Las Vegas in early May.
 

Technovation[MN] mentors young female entrepreneurs

It’s no secret that women and minority entrepreneurs struggle to achieve equal footing with their white male counterparts, particularly in the fast-growing science and tech fields. The problem isn’t unique to MSP: According to American Express OPEN’s much-cited 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses report, women-owned firms account for 30 percent of all U.S. businesses. Though the number of women entrepreneurs is growing at a rapid clip, women-owned businesses still employ just 6 percent of all U.S. workers — a proportion that hasn’t budged since the late 1990s.
 
MSP’s talented cohort of current and future women entrepreneurs may soon lead the nation on these critical representation and employment metrics. Locally based Technovation[MN] is expanding an exciting new initiative to level the playing field for local women and girls, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds — and seeing impressive early results.
 
Now in its second year, Technovation[MN] helps small, all-female teams conceive, develop and pitch apps to the thousands-strong audience at the global Technovation Challenge, held in San Francisco every June since the late 2000s.
 
Led by Thomson Reuters veteran (now Bluespire marketing director of product development) Shawn Stavseth and sponsored in part by Code Savvy, the volunteer-run organization draws entrants mostly from MSP (including historically disadvantaged areas like Cedar-Riverside and North Minneapolis), its suburbs and the Rochester area. According to International Falls native Stavseth, the organization plans a push into outstate Minnesota over the next couple years.
 
Technovation[MN]’s volunteer mentors — tech-savvy parents, local tech entrepreneurs or computer science entrepreneurs — walk participating kids through an intense, 12-week course that includes ideation, competitor research, big-picture market analysis, actual app building and pitch practice. According to Stavseth, most apps focus on social entrepreneurship.
 
“The girls are incredibly passionate about the social issues of our time,” she says.
 
Each team works roughly four hours per week, usually after school or at local community centers. Due to the significant time investment required and the fact that mentors are usually busy professionals, Technovation[MN] requires no fewer than three mentors per team — basically a one-mentor-to-one-student ratio. The 12-week course culminates in a pitch day called Appapalooza, when each team debuts its idea.
 
In addition to the usual suspects like local financial institutions and tech companies, says Stavseth, Technovation[MN] has cross-disciplinary classroom support.
 
“We’ve heard from English teachers who frame coding as a second language and make the argument that kids who can ‘talk’ to computers will be more successful than those who can’t,” says Stavseth. Meanwhile, “[g]ym teachers and coaches are enthusiastic about the wearable-device revolution” and want students to know how to make fitness apps for those devices.
 
Despite its newcomer status, Technovation[MN] is clearly on the ascendancy. The global Technovation Challenge’s judging panel chooses a relative handful of finalists — this year featured just 10 teams in all, split between high school and middle school groups — from among hundreds of global entries. Though no MSP teams are slated to compete at this year’s event, a Rochester-area middle school team called Furst Class did make the finalist cut.
 
Technovation[MN] is also growing. The group boasted 28 teams this year, up from 11 last year, and Stavseth expects even more to sign up this coming school year, despite a barebones publicity campaign that turns mainly on word of mouth. But Stavseth cautions that Technovation[MN] can only grow so fast: Since its talented teens need intense support from mentors, the total number of teams depends on how many parents, educators and community members are willing to devote substantial amounts of their time to the cause.
 
“We’re very pleased with how things are going, but we’re also fighting a huge battle,” says Stavseth. “There’s a tremendous need to have girls in computer science and to fight the stereotypes associated with the field.”
 
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