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Fresh from Grammys, Max Martin launches new line

Max Martin, a luxury shoe brand based in the Nokomis neighborhood of Minneapolis and recently featured in celebrity swag bags at the Grammys and Oscars, goes into production next month with its first full high-heel line. In addition to the Fall 2014 line, a Spring/Summer 2015 line is also in the works. If these two big releases prove successful, a more inclusive women’s shoe line—beyond high heels—could be on the horizon, along with men’s shoes and possibly accessories or other clothing items.

Max Martin got its start in 2012 after William Panzarella, founder of the Minneapolis-based Aegis Foundation (which helps “vulnerable, needy, underserved, and imperiled youth plan, prepare, and focus on education” according to the website), was seeking a sponsor for the foundation’s annual High Heel Dash on Nicollet Mall.

Panzarella noticed a proliferation of shoe brands with ties to celebrities. A longtime hip-hop fan, he immediately saw the potential for a hip-hop line that leveraged his connections to the music industry. Panzarella broadened the idea into a high-heel line that wouldn’t just appeal to musicians. He credits MC Lyte, a former president of the L.A. Chapter of the Grammy Association, with generating publicity about Max Martin among L.A.’s fashionable set, which has driven early sales. Panzarella donates a portion of Max Martin’s pre-season sales to charity.

Being featured at two national awards ceremonies, again thanks to MC Lyte, was a big step forward for Max Martin. For Panzarella, the marketing represented a significant investment, but “the press pays for itself,” he says. During awards season, the shoes were features on Entertainment Tonight and ABC News, as well as in local Twin Cities media outlets. Panzarella also hosted Minneapolis’ “official Oscar viewing party” at Muse. Proceeds from that event benefited the Smile Network and Aegis Foundation.

Panzarella’s fall line includes a striking boot called “Leo,” an angular stiletto called “Betty,” and a classic high-heel called “Moma,” among others. The line’s goal: to prove that true luxury footwear can be made by American hands. The shoes are manufactured in Los Angeles and reportedly are easier on the feet than many other designer shoes, which make them easier to wear on the red carpet—and around town.

The American-made angle was present from the get-go: During Panzarella’s initial market research, he realized that virtually every high-end footwear brand is made in low-cost Chinese factories or, at best, Italian workshops. Spurred on by 2012’s Chinese-made U.S. Olympic uniform fiasco, he set aside his romantic notions of master Italian cobblers manning antiquated shoemaking equipment and resolved to create a footwear line made by Americans, for Americans.

So far, Max Martin’s raw materials, components, and production processes exceed the Federal Trade Commission’s “American Made” guidelines. Panzarella has “tentative plans” to move production to Minnesota in the future.

 

CoCo startups Kidizen and Docalytics win Google funding

In early April, Docalytics and Kidizen, two startups in the Twin Cities that utilize CoCo’s coworking facilities, headed to California to deliver pitches at the first annual Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day. The event is a gathering for 10 early-stage tech startups from the seven cities in Google’s North American Tech Hub Network.

Both companies networked with tech industry heavier hitters. Both received funding commitments worth $100,000 from Revolution Ventures, a venture capital firm run by former AOL boss Steve Case.

According to those in attendance, Case was so impressed with the quality of the pitches—and the ideas behind them—that he made an on-the-spot decision to evenly divide $1 million of Revolution’s early-stage funding pool among the 10 entrants. At a frenetic post-pitch networking round, the other 60 or so investors in attendance connected with the startups’ principals on an individual basis about potential investments or partnerships.

“How cool is it that two startups out of Minneapolis-Saint Paul were part of this?” remarks Dug Nichols, CEO of Kidizen, an online marketplace for used children’s clothing, accessories, and knickknacks. “I have never been a part of such a truly talented group of startups at an event, and I've done a lot of these types of events.”

After the pitch round, he and Kidizen co-founder Dori Graff (Mary Fallon is the other principal) attended the hour-long networking event with investors. They spent the entire session “in constant conversation with a number of different VC firms,” says Nichols, “and we've had additional firms reach out to us after the event.”

Evan Carothers, one of Docalytics’ three founders, had a similar experience. Case’s investment was merely the most public of the company’s Demo Day wins: For Carothers, “getting up in front of a huge group of our peers, investors, and prospects…and tell[ing] them all about the solution Docalytics provides” was equally important, as was securing “the needed capital to really grow our team and product.”

Although it was widely known that prominent VCs would attend, Demo Day’s organizers framed the event more as an opportunity for entrepreneurs to pitch to industry experts and create connections that could lead to funding commitments, either at the event itself or down the line. No one expected Case to commit $100,000, and in such public fashion, to all 10 entrants.

Not that anyone is complaining. As Kidizen continues to gain users and increase its cash flow, Nichols is feeling the momentum. He plans to hire additional developers and marketing staff to grow the six-person firm.

On top of the Revolution investment, which got a wave of national press, Kidizen’s selection as “best new app” in the iTunes App Store’s lifestyle category has dramatically boosted its visibility.

Brian Martucci

Tenth Minnesota Cup for entrepreneurs adds category

In March, the tenth iteration of the Minnesota Cup officially opened to entrepreneurs across the state. The initiative provides mentoring to participants that pass the initial selection phase, as well as financial support for winners. The Cup accepts applications from nascent businesses in seven broad categories, including Food/Agriculture/Beverage, which is new this year and sponsored by General Mills. Melissa Kjolsing, the Cup’s director, ascribes the addition to a massive jump in consumables-related submissions last year. The entry deadline is 11:59 p.m. on May 9.

The Cup’s prize structure isn’t lavish, at least by the inflated standards of the venture capital business. Five of the seven division winners take home $30,000 in cash, with Student and Social winners receiving $20,000 prizes. The grand-prize winner gets an extra $50,000 when the contest wraps up in September. According to past winners, though, the money is almost beside the point.

“Starting anything on your own is difficult,” says Julie Gilbert Newrai, whose PreciouStatus software won the 2012 Minnesota Cup’s grand prize. But, she explains, the serial entrepreneurs, business leaders, and technology experts who donate their time as Cup mentors are “genuinely interested in helping [participants] win.” These veterans help their mentees craft better business plans, hone their investor pitches, and connect with potential partners, employees, and investors.

Newrai is careful not to exaggerate how PreciouStatus’ win influenced the company’s prospects, but it clearly helped. In total, she ascribes more than $1 million in direct investment to her company’s post-win visibility. And that’s just part of the “Cup boost.”

As Newrai sees it, Cup participation does three things for entrepreneurs and their teams. First, it raises startups’ profiles within the state—and, by extension, within the national VC and angel investing communities, which are plugged into local startup scenes. Second, it subjects participants to a barrage of questions and criticisms from veterans who have tried, failed, and succeeded, often in quick succession. “You can’t buy that kind of confidence boost,” says Newrai.

Last but not least, Cup participation shapes and strengthens internal culture: Even if they don’t win, entrepreneurs and their employees derive a well-earned sense of pride and accomplishment from their efforts, validating the sense that they’ve built something valuable.

Minnesota Cup isn’t a radical idea. Businesses have long sought mentoring and funding from more experienced actors, after all. But the initiative dramatically simplifies the process for ambitious entrepreneurs who want to put their ideas in the right hands. The application process is digital and requires entrepreneurs to enter just a page’s worth of data. The competition is open to entrepreneurs at various points in the startup phase, says Kjolsing, from “people with good ideas” to principals of companies with $1 million in annual revenues.

Kjolsing echoes Newrai’s sentiments about the relative merits of money and mentoring. The Minnesota Cup “does provide seed funding, but money isn’t the biggest factor,” she says. “The exposure piece is critical.” Exposure, of course, often leads to investment. And the initiative’s list of sponsors reads like a who’s who of Twin Cities business—from United Health to Digital River—making it an invaluable networking opportunity.

Even entrepreneurs who have existing investor and mentor networks? “There’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to enter the Minnesota Cup,” Newrai says.

Sources: Melissa Kjolsing, Julie Gilbert Newrai
Writer: Brian Martucci

One Day on Earth gathers Twin Cities stories

Got big plans for April 26? Lu Lippold, the local producer for One Day on Earth’s “One Day in the Twin Cities,” has a suggestion: Grab whatever video recording device you can—cameraphones included—and record the audio-visual pulse of your neighborhood.

On the final Saturday of April, the Twin Cities and 10 other U.S. metros will host the fourth installment of One Day on Earth’s celebration of film, culture, and all-around placemaking. Founded by Los Angeles-based film producers Kyle Ruddick and Brandon Litman, One Day on Earth (ODOE) has a “goal of creating a unique worldwide media event where thousands of participants would simultaneously film over a 24-hour period,” according to its website.

The first event took place on October 10, 2010 (10-10-10); 11-11-11 and 12-12-12 followed. ODOE skipped 2013, but its organizers weren’t about to wait until 2101 for their next shot. Instead, they selected a spring Saturday—both to accommodate amateur filmmakers with 9-to-5 jobs, and to give participants in the Northern Hemisphere longer daylight hours to work with—for a bigger, bolder, slightly revamped version of the event.

For the first time, participants get 10 questions to inspire their creativity and guide their storytelling, from “What is the best thing happening in your city today?” to “Who is your city not serving?” The goal is to create a multi-frame snapshot of “cities in progress,” one that doesn’t simply answer the who-what-where of the places it covers.

As One Day in the Twin Cities’ point person, Lippold supervises local filmmakers and pitched the project to dozens of partner organizations, including the Science Museum of Minnesota and Springboard for the Arts to visual media companies like Cinequipt and Vimeo. (The McKnight Foundation and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative are the largest local sponsors.)

The upside? “[The event] is a great way to shine a light on all the hard work that our nonprofit community does,” says Lippold.

Lippold also works with a handful of local ambassadors, some of whom enjoy national acclaim. These include noted cinematographer Jeff Stonehouse, veteran documentarian Matt Ehling, and community-focused filmmaker D.A. Bullock. They’ll be contributing their talents—and stature—to One Day in the Twin Cities’ promotion and execution.

One Day in the Twin Cities could be seen well beyond Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Along with their counterparts from other participating cities, local filmmakers may see their work incorporated into a condensed, three-part series that Litman and Lichtbau will market to PBS affiliates around the country. No word on whether TPT will air the special, but TPT Rewire has agreed to publicize the event in the coming weeks.

The real stars of One Day in the Twin Cities, though, are its filmmakers. Even if you’ve never filmed anything in your life, says Lippold, you can contribute meaningful work. Thanks to an interactive map feature on ODOE’s main site, the work will visible to anyone who visits.

“If I were just starting out in video, I would see this as a huge opportunity,” says Lippold. Since all contributions are credited by name and location, each participant “instantly becomes a documentary filmmaker,” she adds.

Source: Lu Lippold
Writer: Brian Martucci


Twin Cities job creation outpaces most major metros

Two key organizations recently released encouraging reports about the state of the Twin Cities’ economy. The State Job Creation Index, a Gallup analysis of job creation at the state level, put Minnesota in fifth place for the 12 months that ended in December 2013. All four “states” (one was the District of Columbia) that finished ahead of Minnesota are significantly smaller; the leader, North Dakota, is currently benefiting from a massive oil boom.

Notably, Minnesota came in just ahead of Texas, which is often touted as a low-tax, low-regulation alternative to slower-growing northern states that often impose heavier tax burdens and stricter environmental regulations. Leaving the political commentary to others, Minnesota is typically lumped in with this “northern contingent.”

Another report ties Minnesota’s impressive job creation figures to a vibrant, apparently accelerating economy in our own backyard. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment Summary looked at job creation and unemployment figures in 372 metro areas across the country. Although some smaller metros had minuscule unemployment rates— Bismarck, ND, and Logan, UT were both at 2.8 percent—Minneapolis-Saint Paul, at 4.9 percent, had the lowest rate among large metro areas (defined by a total population of one million or higher). That marked a 0.2 percent improvement from December 2012, when it also had the lowest unemployment rate among major metro areas.

Twin Cities’ business and civic leaders already have plenty of reasons to pat themselves on the back, so why not add another? Job creation was strong across most economic sectors, with information technology and healthcare leading the way. It’s especially impressive that this growth comes on the heels of a prolonged period of economic malaise. In 2010, a sobering report from the Itasca Project Job Growth Task Force asserted that “well before the current economic downturn…the region [had] fallen behind much of the nation in terms of job growth,” going on to warn that “our quality of life will decline” without action.

To reverse the slump, Itasca’s report urged lawmakers to “address the cost of doing business,” articulate a plan for local and regional growth, and encourage entrepreneurship and research/innovation. In January, Governor Dayton announced the launch of the Minnesota Job Creation Fund, a far-reaching program that offers tax breaks of up to $1 million for businesses that “create at least 10 full-time jobs and invest at least $500,000 in their own property improvements,” according to the Pioneer Press.

Writer: Brian Martucci

West Bank Arts Foundry: Connecting artists and businesses

On April 5, the West Bank Business Association (WBBA) will host a full day of creative merrymaking for artists, business owners, and arts enthusiasts on the West Bank. The West Bank Arts Foundry (WBAF), as the event is known, aims to connect Twin Cities artists with local business owners and “create more opportunities for artistic endeavors on the West Bank,” according to its website.

The neighborhood has long been known as a hotbed of creativity, but West Bank Business Association director Jamie Schumacher sees an opportunity to double down. “The arts are so important to the West Bank’s history…and part of what makes us a great destination district,” she says. “I want to do everything I can to support the creative activity we have and help build more.”

The WBBA already supports local creative events like the West Bank Music Festival, but the district lacks an arts advocacy organization. As an advocate for all local businesses, including many creative enterprises, the WBBA is a natural catalyst to help grow the West Bank’s arts scene. Schumacher cites a glaring need to “recognize and help more of our musicians and artists” and connect them with “businesses [that] want to be more arts-friendly.”

Ultimately, the goal of the West Bank Arts Foundry—hopefully an ongoing one, if WBAF becomes an annual ritual—is to forge, and then build on, partnerships between local property owners and artists. With so many “great minds coming together to collaborate” at WBAF, says Schumacher, “I’m interested in seeing what creative solutions [can be found to solve] some of our area’s issues.”

Owners of temporarily vacant buildings might work with local muralists to keep their properties lively before new tenants move in, for instance. Installation artists might use their talents to help West Bank visitors explore or navigate the neighborhood.

Schumacher is well-suited to oversee WBAF. As an employee of Peace Coffee—and, later, as owner of Altered Esthetics, a nonprofit art studio—she learned the ins and outs of the nonprofit sector. Her tenure as boss of the WBBA, meanwhile, has reinforced the placemaking power of creative enterprise. “[The] arts help to make communities unique, vibrant, livable, and destination worthy,” she says. “The West Bank is a pretty fantastic example of that.”

WBAF will feature 15 (and counting) “breakout sessions.” Many—Budgeting & Accounting for Artists, Marketing for Artists & Events—offer practical advice for working artists. Others, like Underground Art and the Vibrant History of the West Bank/Rekindling the Guerrilla Art Spirit, are meant to be “inspirational and collaborative,” according to Schumacher. WBAF will also feature appearances from prominent artists, including Joan Vorderbruggen (recently featured in The Line), who will lead a discussion of street and storefront art called Popping Up in the West Bank.

“It’s going to be a fun day,” says Schumacher, “and a solid opportunity to increase art and creative activity on the West Bank, as well as be a good networking opportunity for artists and businesses.”

Source: Jamie Schumacher
Writer: Brian Martucci

Docalytics debuts next-gen tech at Google Demo Day

Docalytics, an ambitious tech company that operates out of CoCo’s Saint Paul coworking space, will be debuting its next-generation document viewing technology at this year’s Google Demo Day. Thanks to a partnership between Google and CoCo, Docalytics’ founders—Evan Carothers, Ryan Morlok, and Steve Peck—are heading to Silicon Valley on April 1 and 2 to show off their cloud-based solution, absorb the wisdom of Google’s top product specialists, and rub shoulders with some of the technology industry’s leading lights.

Not bad for three guys with a startlingly simple idea. According to its website, Docalytics helps marketers “bridge the gap between sales and marketing communication,” boosting lead generation and conversion rates for businesses that utilize online content marketing—which, these days, is just about every business.

The key? “Smart” PDF documents that enable the B2B marketers responsible for putting in-depth marketing materials in the hands of executives, purchasing managers, and other decision-makers to track each prospect’s engagement with their content. Companies that use Docalytics’ application can track, measure, and analyze what potential clients do with key marketing content. That capability generates a treasure trove of relevant data, which marketers didn’t have access to before.

According to Carothers, the idea for Docalytics arose from a simple observation: Few prospects bother to fill out the contact forms on the “gated” landing pages that many companies use to track readers’ engagement with ebooks, white papers, and other marketing materials. These landing pages have “terrible conversion rates,” as Carothers puts it, both because they require effort to get past and because they can seem invasive. This is a classic catch-22: With a lack of viable alternatives, marketers are forced to employ a lead-tracking strategy that actively discourages lead generation. One could argue that they’d be better off not tracking their leads at all.

Unless they had a viable, non-invasive, flexible alternative, that is. Docalytics’ elegant solution removes artificial barriers to prospects’ engagement with high-level pieces of content marketing while dramatically enhancing their ability to analyze each viewer’s experience with the material.

This second bit is particularly important: It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that Docalytics is doing for content marketing analysis what Google Analytics has already done for website analysis. Used properly, the solution could result in far more relevant, personalized, and—perhaps most importantly—authentic-seeming marketing materials. “This tracking provides marketers with data to produce better, more effective content,” says Carothers, “and helps salespeople understand [and cater to] the interests and needs of specific prospects.”

So what do Carothers, Morlok, and Peck stand to gain from Demo Days? First of all, they’ll be pitching directly to a panel that includes some of biggest players in the venture capital space. “This group has the potential to help introduce us to new customers, markets, and growth capital to help us take our company to the next level faster than we could using conventional growth strategies,” says Carothers.

They’ll also get some valuable advice from Google’s product whizzes, who certainly know how to spot and improve game-changing technologies.

Back in Saint Paul, the future looks bright for Docalytics. “We have certainly found a pain point in the market,” says Carothers. “We are already starting to experience great growth and traction and have no plans to slow down.”

If things continue to go Docalytics’ way, the definition of “we” will expand. “[We’ll] be looking for great talent in the Midwest to help us expand and capitalize on the opportunity in the marketplace,” he says.

Source: Evan Carothers
Writer: Brian Martucci

LocaLoop: Innovative choice for outstate wireless

After a long, successful career in the technology industry, Swedish-American entrepreneur Carl-Johan Torarp is bringing reliable wireless broadband to small towns and farmsteads in southwestern Minnesota and beyond. His firm, Minneapolis-based LocaLoop, is “an economically viable 4G business solution for operators providing fixed and mobile broadband Internet service and web applications for consumer, business, and government users,” according to its website. Put another way, it’s a “complete 4G business-in-a-box.”

As a (primarily) B2B firm that markets to smaller communication service providers—rural telephone companies, communications/electric cooperatives, local public utilities, and entrepreneurs who see a money-making opportunity in bringing fast, reliable mobile and fixed Internet service to previously underserved areas—LocaLoop doesn’t deal directly with individual subscribers.

It does, however, offer a complementary, consumer-facing brand called synKro, which is enabled by LocaLoop’s four-patent cloud technology. SynKro allows operators to immediately deploy this “brand-in-a-box” and leverage LocaLoop’s existing marketing infrastructure, salesforce, and client-facing services.

On top of the cachet of an increasingly recognizable brand, synKro offers benefits like on-demand support, automatic payment collection and mobile compatibility—“data roaming,” as LocaLoop describes it—with other synKro-enabled providers across the country. Subscribers who want to use their mobile devices outside their regular provider’s service area can be confident that they’ll enjoy access to consistent, high-quality broadband Internet.

If this sounds novel, it should. According to Torarp, LocaLoop’s solution is a superior—and innovatively disruptive—alternative to the three main categories of service providers that currently operate in LocaLoop’s target markets. These are larger telecom firms with huge “legacy” investments in fixed (aka landline) broadband systems that require government subsidies to remain profitable; smaller firms that rely on wireless LANs or early-generation (and thus uncompetitive) broadband technology; and wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and others) whose 4G coverage is designed for high-density markets and isn’t profitable or consistent in rural areas, if it’s available at all.

Each type of provider has its own shortcomings. The legacy operators “don’t know of any other way [to profitability] than relying on subsidies,” says Torarp, and the LAN/first-generation wireless broadband operators can’t afford to scale or maintain the technology at sufficient densities. It’s possible that mobile carriers could one day build out profitable, tower-based 4G networks in rural areas, but that’s still a decade away, at best.

By then, a new technology may have usurped 4G broadband anyway—a problem that LocaLoop’s continuously updated Software-as-a-Service/Infrastructure-as-a-Service (SaaS/IaaS) avoids by adapting its “cloud service platform” to newer generations of wireless broadband hardware as they emerge.

In fact, LocaLoop’s technology is the first rural wireless broadband service that offers a speedy path to profitability for operators. According to Torarp, a new client with access to an existing tower and 180 subscribers needs less than $30,000—or $1,000 per month, if its equipment is leased—to get started.

All things being equal, the technology’s break-even point is around 100 subscribers per tower location, and an operator that adds 50 subscribers per month should recoup its investment in less than six months. When compared to the multimillion-dollar deployment costs of existing rural broadband technologies, LocaLoop’s solution looks like a steal.

Aside from local operators and entrepreneurs, LocaLoop serves vertically integrated customers like energy firms that maintain labor-intensive operations in remote areas. Its solutions are also cost-effective for prosperous farmers and ranchers who wish to set up their own towers and act as their own operators.

What’s next for LocaLoop? Growth—and plenty of it. “From a technology or business point of view, nothing prevents us from becoming a billion-dollar company [over the next decade],” says Torarp. “From now on, it’s about effective business plan execution and access to enough expansion capital.”

Sounds like a plan.

Source: Carl-Johan Torarp
Writer: Brian Martucci

Global Water Dances connects water issues around the world

Even in an increasingly interconnected world, few events or movements are truly global in scope. Global Water Dances (GWD), a biannual event aimed at raising awareness of water issues in various parts of the world, is among the precious few. GWD is a complex effort governed by a steering committee and facilitated by thousands of dancers and choreographers. But it owes its existence, in large part, to the efforts of one woman: Marylee Hardenbergh, a Minneapolis choreographer and Artist-in-Residence at Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education in Saint Paul.

At 1:30 p.m., on March 22 (the United Nations’ World Water Day), the Center will host a film screening to benefit GWD. The event will include short films about GWD and presentations by local water activists from H2O for Life, Friends of the Mississippi River, the National Park Service, and other organizations.

Global Water Dances grew out of Hardenbergh’s “One River Mississippi” project, a simultaneous, six-city dance event that was “the world’s largest site-specific performance,” according to the website for the 2006 event. The project was just one of many that Hardenbergh has overseen as Artistic Director of Global Site Performance, a 501c3 nonprofit.

In 2008, Hardenbergh attended a gathering of Laban Movement Analysts in Europe and showed a documentary about the event. The attendees were floored by the event’s scope, the artistic freedom of performers at individual sites (in New Orleans, for example, one of the performances incorporated local jazz music), and its unabashed advocacy of river-related environmental issues. Many wanted to participate or contribute somehow, but most lived nowhere near the Mississippi. The solution was an international dance event focused on general water issues: Global Water Dances.

Given the scale of the undertaking, the first GWD wasn’t held until June of 2011. In total, 60 sites—on all six populated continents—participated. Part of the appeal, Hardenbergh says, was the fact that “the event can be easily replicated anywhere, using local resources.”

The first GWD was a “rolling” event, scheduled for 5 p.m. local time at each site. The timing was meant to be convenient; folks in North America didn’t want to get up in the wee hours for a truly simultaneous performance. But it was an inconvenience for the Australian contingent, which struggled on through twilight conditions (it was close to the Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, after all). Hardenbergh hopes to avoid the daylight issue by scheduling the next performance for 2 p.m. on June 15, 2015.

Hardenbergh and the other organizers, which are based in Canada, Germany, Colombia, and the United States, hope to forge official partnerships with local, national, and maybe international water advocacy organizations to a greater degree than the previous two events. While the event is a high-profile, ready-made means of drawing attention to pressing environmental problems, says Hardenbergh, “the nice thing about a dance is that it’s not an overtly political expression.”

Source: Marylee Hardenbergh
Writer: Brian Martucci

Creative Minneapolis introduces user-curated community

It’s not quite “Pinterest for professionals” or “Facebook for freelancers.” But CreativeMinneapolis.com, developed by Mark Sandau of the Minneapolis design firm Sandau Creative in the North Loop, is an interactive, user-curated, free online community for designers, illustrators, writers, and other artists who want to get their work noticed.

After kicking the idea around for several months, Sandau soft-launched the site in early February. He invited his close friends and colleagues to make submissions and approvals. He followed up with a proper kick-off at the end of February.

According to the website, Creative Minneapolis’ member-submitted, member-approved content is “about the creative work, people, and events in and around Minneapolis.” After a trial period, during which creatives can submit their own work but can’t approve other members’ submissions, users gain “editing” privileges that give them a say over the approval and placement of the site’s content. By “hyping” chosen posts, editors can push compelling work to the “top” of niche-specific silos like “advertising,” “copywriting,” “photography,” and “digital.”

“This platform isn’t revolutionary,” Sandau says. “It’s evolutionary, an interesting idea.” The fact that users can shape submitted content—and, thus the very appearance and nature of the site—is a powerful proposition.

Sandau’s worked in the industry for nearly two decades. Prior to founding Sandau Creative 10 years ago, he worked several entry-level jobs. He then landed at Fallon for a seven-year stint. He understands how tough it is for rank-and-file creatives—especially freelancers, who often toil around the margins of the media and advertising industries—to get their work noticed by the right people.

Even smaller agencies like Sandau’s, unless they have a “sexy brand” under their belts, might not have the resources to devote to a tradeshow exhibit or promotional campaign. Creative Minneapolis aims to be a highly visible virtual portfolio for these folks.

Current focus notwithstanding, there’s nothing stopping Creative Minneapolis from morphing into something bigger or broader. In the future, Sandau hypothesizes, a close-knit group of gearheads could use the site to share pictures, videos, or animations of modified cars or motorcycles, and the most interesting of the bunch would bubble to the top alongside portfolio pieces from local graphic designers. 

“Done right,” he says, “Creative Minneapolis has the potential to mirror the audience that’s watching and contributing.”

For now, Sandau is content to see where this all leads. He has a business to run, after all, and doesn’t have unlimited time to promote the site. That’s okay, he says. “At the end of the day, it’s just fun to see other people’s work.”

Source: Mark Sandau
Writer: Brian Martucci

Lyft kicks off rideshare service at Public Functionary event

Lyft, a San Francisco-based ridesharing company that has expanded into nearly two dozen U.S. cities over the past 12 months, kicked off its Minneapolis-Saint Paul service last week with a stylish launch party at Northeast Minneapolis’ Public Functionary. Guests mingled to beats from DJ Sarah White and quaffed free brews from Indeed Brewing Company. Glam Doll Donuts and Maya Cuisine catered.

The beats and brews weren’t the only free items on display at PF. Lyft used the event to showcase its Lyft Pioneer program, which offers two weeks’ worth of complimentary rides—up to a $25-per-ride limit—for Twin Cities residents who download its app.

Lyft bills itself as “your new best friend with a car.” That’s actually pretty accurate: The company works with freelance drivers who use their own cars to move riders, who “hail” rides using Lyft’s mobile app, around a pre-determined service area. It’s basically a taxi service without a car barn, human dispatcher, or official licensing system.

This last bit has gotten Lyft in hot water with some local governments, including Minneapolis’. Officials fret that Lyft circumvents restrictions against unlicensed, “for hire” taxicabs. Lyft counters that it carries liability insurance worth $1 million per driver, far exceeding that of many taxi companies. For now, riders shouldn’t worry too much about the service’s legality—any liability falls on the shoulders of the company itself, not its users. And Lyft’s proponents contend that the progressive, even revolutionary potential of an on-demand ride-for-hire app is self-evident.

According to Tricia Khutoretsky, Public Functionary’s founder and executive director, such progressiveness drew the two organizations together. Khutoretsky got in touch with Nic Haggart—the point person for Lyft Twin Cities, although he’s actually based in San Francisco—through “mutual contacts,” she says, and the idea for a launch party at PF sprouted from there.

“[Haggart] thought Public Functionary would be a good fit” for the type of launch event that Lyft had already held in 20 other cities, says Khutoretsky. More so than many other galleries, Public Functionary has a diverse audience that’s heavily involved in the Twin Cities’ creative industry. Many members of the “Lyft community,” meanwhile, are hardworking creative types who either drive to make a few extra bucks or ride because they lack cars of their own.

Lyft and PF might be very different organizations, but they share a singular devotion to finding new solutions to old problems.
“We’re always thinking about how we communicate and share resources with an eye towards sustainability,” says Khutoretsky. As a company that promotes ridesharing, Lyft is nothing if not sustainable, and the launch party served as a means of “giving support for their concept, which we are totally behind.”

In return for the warm welcome and much-needed visibility, Lyft will be sponsoring PF’s next exhibition. As the organization looks for new ways to break the “stuffy” art gallery mold, it’s likely to host more mutually beneficial events of this nature.

Khutoretsky is careful to draw the distinction between this “sponsorship” model and the “space-for-hire” approach that many small galleries use to raise funds. Working with like-minded organizations is a boon, she argues, as long as it doesn’t compromise PF’s image as an accessible, progressive, occasionally subversive exhibition space that values small donors and community engagement.

“One of our resources is our space,” says Khutoretsky, “and we continuously seek ways of using it without diluting our identity.”  

Source: Tricia Khutoretsky
Writer: Brian Martucci

Videotect continues to bring levity to serious design issues

Now in its fourth year, Architecture Minnesota’s popular Videotect contest, created “to bring more voices and more creativity into public debates about key built-environment issues,” is getting a bit of a makeover. The basic parameters remain the same: Inspired by the contest’s open-ended, sometimes offbeat prompt related to architecture, design, or the use of public space in the Twin Cities—this year it’s “Two people walk into a bar…”—entrants create informative, entertaining videos.

This year, the entries must be between 30 and 90 seconds in length, which is shorter than in the past. “The first year, entrants had four weeks to create two- to four-minute videos,” says Chris Hudson, Architecture Minnesota’s editor and Videotect’s originator, “and they just about killed themselves” getting it done. That first contest—the topic was the Minneapolis skyway system—produced some memorable videos, though, including a hilarious 3D rap battle about streets vs. the skyways.

Also this year, in addition to a shorter main entry, contestants can submit as many six-second Vine videos as they like. The ultra-shorts must promote contestants’ main entries in some fashion, but don’t come with any other restrictions. “Vine? Everybody’s doing it! So we wanted to, too,” Hudson says.

“Two people walk into a bar…” has inspired entries that focus on design’s power to promote quality social interaction in bars, cafes, and eating establishments. All 15 videos are available for public viewing in the Videotect section of Architecture Minnesota’s website. Notable entries include “Sharing Space,” a heartwarming series of drawings that re-imagines bars as “impromptu performance spaces;” “Taproom Roadshow,” a humorous send-up of the PBS classic, set at Minneapolis’s Victory 44 restaurant; a time-lapse video of Alchemy Architects’ design and construction of the tiny, circular Bang Brewery in Saint Paul.

The contest winners and runners-up are chosen by a rotating panel of notable judges: Top prize is $2,000 and runners-up receive $500 each. There’s also a $1000 Viewers Choice Winner created through public voting on the website. This year’s judges include Omar Ansari, founder of Surly Brewing Company, who has become the panel’s resident expert on the business of socializing, an architect from Gensler, and two local film experts. “We’ve gotten lucky [with the judges],” Hudson says. “We ask people with expertise in film or in the theme, and they're generous enough to say yes.”

WCCO’s hilarious Jason Derusha hosts this year’s Videotect presentation on March 13 in the Walker Art Center’s Cinema. During the event, videos are shown, the audience roars with laughter, judges astutely comment, and attendees hobnob. Hudson wants Videotect to be about much more than a night of conversation and laughter, though.

Videotect welcomes submissions from design and architecture experts, but the contest’s true aim is to get regular folks talking about the important, if sometimes dry and complex, issues that vex people who work in the business. Architecture Minnesota originally planned to organize a more formal design competition for younger architects, but soon discarded that idea in favor of an open-to-all video contest with looser rules and an offbeat approach to weighty questions.

He hasn’t looked back. “I think Videotect's biggest achievement is simply making a subject matter as intimidating as urban and architectural design a whole lot of fun,” says Hudson. “What the videos have lacked in sophisticated design commentary, they've more than made up for in entertainment value…[that’s] a very valuable thing.”

Source: Chris Hudson
Writer: Brian Martucci

Mobile tech company ThisClicks hits its stride with new funding

Saint Paul-based ThisClicks, a mobile technology company in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood that specializes in “workforce solutions” apps, recently received $4 million in new funding from three venture capital firms. In its sixth year of operations, ThisClicks is hitting its stride.

Founder and CEO Chad Halvorson aims to boost the company’s sales force and press ahead with the rollout of its time-clock app, WageBase. He’s also planning to move to a larger office in Saint Paul, and double the company’s employee headcount from 15 to 30 by December.

WageBase is ThisClicks’s second product. WageBase is a startlingly simple concept: a remote time-clock app that lets hourly employees clock into and out of work from anywhere. (A GPS tracker ensures that they’re doing so from the workplace, not bed.) The app is especially useful for big diffuse workplaces, such as construction sites.

The building blocks of Halvorson’s company have been in place for a decade and a half. As a part-time grocery jockey in the late 1990s, Halvorson grew sick of making extra trips to the store to check his weekly schedule. He dreamed up an online employee-scheduling program—WhenIWork—that would eliminate this problem. He shopped a prototype version of the app with a contact at the Mall of America, but it didn’t pan out.

“There were just too many barriers,” he says. “Many people still lacked high-speed Internet and the mobile space didn’t really exist yet.”

Halvorson bided his time with other projects. He founded a Web consulting firm in college. In 2005 he partnered with a video design company to found Meditech, a “full-service development and marketing agency for the medical device industry.” Meditech eventually acquired Boston Scientific, St. Jude’s, and Medtronic as clients.

In 2008, with the mobile revolution in full swing, Halvorson gave his teenage dream another shot. He built a new version of WhenIWork—he’d registered its Internet domain back in 1998—and used his own funds to build an organic business-development campaign driven largely by content marketing and word of mouth. He describes this approach as “consumerized B2B marketing.”

“We don’t want to market directly to the guy in the suit,” says Halvorson. Instead, ThisClicks focuses on scheduling managers and supervisors at small- to medium-size companies, counting on WhenIWork’s obvious benefits to impress upper management and engender long-term contracts.

In fact, WhenIWork has taken off—the app now counts recognizable businesses like 1-800-GOT-JUNK? as clients—without a traditional sales force or seed funding. Halvorson hired his first business development staffers in late 2013, and the recent capital infusion represents ThisClicks’s first debt tranche.

This was deliberate. “Before we could consider raising money, we needed to figure out how to make money,” says Halvorson. “When you raise money first, it’s easier to learn how to spend money.” To ensure that his company would survive if it couldn’t find decent financing terms, he vowed not to raise outside funds until ThisClicks was taking in at least $1 million in annual revenues.

It helps that, unlike many tech entrepreneurs, the Minnesota-raised Halvorson took a low-key approach to success. “We weren’t interested in breakneck growth” to start, he says. Figuring out how to appeal to hourly workers and schedulers was far more important.

What’s the endgame for ThisClicks? On this point, Halvorson sounds a lot more ambitious. “We want our apps to be the most important tools in employees’ and managers’ pockets,” he says. “We’re focused on being the premier provider of cloud-based workforce solutions.”

 

Art Leadership Program a win-win-win

Corporate sponsors have long played an integral role in the development and dissemination of art and culture. OST USA, an IT company with a 125-employee office in the North Loop's TractorWorks Building, is further advancing corporate sponsorship.

As the highest-profile partner of the Art Leadership Program (ALP), an ongoing collaboration that provides emerging artists with resources, guidance, and access to markets, OST supplies studio space (ArtLab 111) near the building’s loading dock for the dozen or so artists-in-residence it has already sponsored (usually for three to six months), and a lobby gallery (Gallery One) that regularly hosts exhibitions and openings for ALP’s participants.

“OST is the quintessential corporate partner,” says Ron Ridgeway, ALP’s founder and chief visionary, who launched the partnership. Ridgeway is also a mixed-media artist and corporate branding consultant. “We maintain a meaningful venue [for our artists], as well as curatorial services and placement… as exhibitions are becoming an art form in themselves. These days, it’s all about the experience.”

One ALP alumni launched from the program into high-profile commissions. In early 2012, local artist Elizabeth Simonson displayed her “systems-based” installations at BMW of Minnetonka’s Gallery One—an off-site ALP exhibition space. That same year, she built on a commission for the Walker Art Center’s lobby with a $25,000 fellowship grant from the McKnight Foundation.

Simonson “set the benchmark for our program,” says Ridgeway, but there’s nothing stopping future ALP participants and residents from notching their own victories. Ridgeway describes ALP’s corporate sponsorship model as a classic win-win-win: Artists get funding and market exposure, corporations get the positive PR that accompanies art patronage, and business districts or neighborhoods gain valuable physical assets.

“What’s been most beneficial [about working with ALP] is just getting our work out there,” says Twin Cities artist Booka B (aka Adam Booker), a recent graduate of Metropolitan State University who is showing new work with Lindsay Splichal, a recent graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, beginning March 6 in Gallery One. But creating art is just one piece of the puzzle, he adds: “You also have to connect with the community.”

Traditionally, companies that invested in art curated permanent collections that would eventually “gather dust,” as Ridgeway puts it. The rotating installations or exhibitions put on by ALP’s visiting or resident artists, in contrast, feel like organic additions to offices, building lobbies, and other public spaces, he adds.

ALP has also hosted an exhibition at International Market Square and is currently working with potential tenants of Nicollet Avenue’s 9’s on the Mall. “We hope to build a sustainable model for this type of partnership,” Ridgeway says.

Sources: Ron Ridgeway, Art Leadership Program; Adam Booker
Writer: Brian Martucci

WholeMe launches line of healthy products

For most people, a diabetes diagnosis is a wake-up call. For WholeMe co-founders Mary Kosir and Krista Steinbach, it was a business opportunity.

In the mid-2000s, Kosir’s husband developed adult-onset Type I diabetes—an unusual, but not totally unheard of, condition that progresses differently than the age-related insulin resistance we know as Type II diabetes.

The news forced the family to eliminate gluten, grains, and most dairy products from its diet. Kosir embraced the new restrictions, sharing experimental cereal and bar recipes with friends, neighbors, and associates at her local CrossFit gym.

That’s where she met Steinbach, the former pastry chef at Minneapolis’ Bachelor Farmer. Steinbach was coming off a lifestyle change of her own: In 2011, she’d competed in (and won) a 30-day “food challenge” that required contestants to eliminate refined sugar, gluten, grains, and certain other substances from their diets. By the contest’s end date, her chronic gastrointestinal issues had vanished and her energy levels were higher than they’d been in years.

“The challenge taught me how much food impacted my daily life,” she says, “and pushed me to learn more about nutrition.”

The two women had a lot in common, so they officially joined forces in early 2013. Kosir’s first creation, the energy-dense DateMe bar, was already making waves—“Everyone was telling me to start selling them,” she says—but Steinbach brought years of culinary expertise to the table. In addition to the DateMe bar, the duo created the WakeMe cocoa bar and EatMe cereal.

And so WholeMe was born. Thanks to their CrossFit connections, the co-founders had a ready-made market of active, health-conscious clients. Kosir and Steinbach also have stocking arrangements with gyms across the metro area, and they’re looking to find other places, like yoga studios and food co-ops, that attract a similar clientele. “We want to be closer to our customers,” says Steinbach, not tucked away on a shelf at a big-box store.

WholeMe’s bars and cereals are made from whole foods that haven’t been treated or altered in any way. “Our goal is to create relatively simple products where taste comes first,” says Kosir. “At the same time, we need to be mindful of what we’re putting in our bodies.” She’s quick to note, wryly, that WholeMe’s only preservative “is a refrigerator.”

Kosir and Steinbach think they’ve found a sweet spot for their products. “There’s lots of room to grow in this segment,” says Kosir. Many “healthy” foods don’t taste very good, she argues, and most tasty foods aren’t that healthy.

The two women hope WholeMe’s simple promise—healthy, delicious food for all—resonates beyond Minnesota’s borders. Less than a year after their official launch, they’ve already shipped to gyms and stores in North Carolina, California, and Hawaii. Their burgeoning e-store puts the rest of the world at their fingertips. In March, they hope to make some new friends at the Natural Foods Expo West in Anaheim, California.

It doesn’t hurt that they have a cheeky, catchy brand campaign and an experienced chef. They plan to expand their “gear concept” with more merchandise options, like T-shirts and hats, says Kosir. They expect WholeMe’s “beta testing” arm, branded NewMe, to produce seasonal or limited-release products exclusively for online sale. If a NewMe creation is well received, says Steinbach, it could become a permanent addition to the lineup.

Ultimately, Kosir and Steinbach would like to see WakeMe, DateMe, and EatMe—and whatever else they dream up—in the likes of Whole Foods, Lund’s, and Byerly’s.

Their ambition doesn’t come cheap. To cover their travel expenses and fund WholeMe’s ongoing expansion, they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign that aims to raise $40,000 by February 24. To encourage participation, Kosir and Steinbach plan to give donors dibs on the first-ever NewMe creation.

Source: Mary Kosir
Writer: Brian Martucci
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