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Phantom Records points to a resurgent MSP music scene

Phantom Records AMG-TCLA, an ascendant Minneapolis-based record label, hopes to raise MSP’s already significant profile as a creative hub for the auditory arts. Phantom is the brainchild of founder Alex Guerrero (stage name: Dweedo). He pulls quintuple duty as a producer, songwriter, talent scout, manager and promoter.
 
“Our inspiration for starting up a record label is to give Minnesota the attention it deserves within the music industry,” says Guerrero. “We want to continue the work of former producers like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who put MSP on the map. …[B]ut we [also] want the world to see that...amazing sounds are being produced outside New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.”
 
Guerrero has help from four other MSP music notables. Ariel Padilla (stage name: A.P.) serves as associate producer. Julian Scott (JuChefe) is the in-house arranger and DJ. Rob Skalsky (Robby Cur$ed) is co-talent scout, assistant editor, photographer/videographer and musical artist. Lou Oberg (J3b Adea) is lead graphic designer and co-photographer/videographer. And Cameron McCrimmon (Malovinci) is a promising artist.
 
Record labels come and go. Phantom plans to stick around by adding a human touch to an industry that’s increasingly focused on flashy, transient trends — good for the bottom line, perhaps, but not for music lovers or artists.
 
“Our goal is simple: we want to make music that you can feel and relate to on another level,” explains Guerrero. “We want to be more than just a record label. We want to be a part of our listeners’ experience.”

“Phantom Records is all about putting emotion back into music,” he adds.

According to Guerrero, Phantom is actively recruiting “hardworking, dedicated artists” willing to work with a startup label. He’s also hunting for “influential” artists capable of lending visibility to a nascent label in a crowded marketplace.

“We plan on keeping up with the latest trends, while having veteran artists over time help groom younger artists coming into the industry,” says Guerrero. “We want our artists, our company and our values to feel like they're part of a really special movement that brings people together from all walks of life.” Phantom Records plans to keep its operational base in MSP for the foreseeable future.
 

Winter Cycling Congress kicks local bike culture into high gear

MSP has long been the hub of winter biking innovation and locals are staying car-free through the winter in ever-growing numbers. But this week, MSP is actually the center of the winter biking universe.
 
That’s because the annual Winter Cycling Congress is in town through February 4. As the St. Paul Winter Carnival sashays to a jolly crescendo, several hundred hardy souls are suiting up across (and around) town to show off the latest in winter biking technology and policy.
 
Winter Cycling Congress 2016 is the fourth ever and the first to be held in the United States. (Previous locations: Oulu, Finland; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Leeuwarden, Netherlands.
 
Winter Cycling Congress 2016 “celebrate[s] the diversity of the North American cycling movement while also welcoming inspiration, best practices and lessons from bicycle-friendly communities around the world,” according to the event’s website. The event takes place at four venues: The Commons Hotel in Downtown East, Minneapolis; Coffman Memorial Union at the U of M; the Weisman Art Museum, also at the U of M; and, of course, at the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
 
Winter Cycling Congress 2016’s programming includes formal lectures from cycling experts, meet-and-greet networking sessions, informal discussions, group workshops, extracurricular activities (such as bike-themed trivia at St. Paul’s Amsterdam Bar), and — of course — lots and lots of cycling.
 
Winter Cycling Congress 2016 is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to kick local bike culture into another gear. Although MSP takes for granted its hardy winter cyclists, the region’s winter cycling rates (known as mode share) actually trail many European cities’.
 
Oulu, the first Winter Cycling Congress host city, maintains a 25 percent cycling mode share through the entire winter, despite a snowier climate and a near-Arctic location that makes for depressingly short winter days. In MSP, cycling’s mode share drops precipitously on cold days, according to data collected by Nice Ride, and falls further once the snow starts flying.
 
“One of our goals is to make bicycling more inclusive for everyone and we recognize that our climate plays a role in that. We know there are creative strategies to enable people to be able to still bike in the more snowy months,” said Janelle Waldock, vice president of community health and health equity for Winter Cycling Congress 2016 title sponsor BlueCross and BlueShield of Minnesota, in a recent MinnPost feature.
 
The Winter Cycling Congress is organized by the Winter Cycling Federation, an international organization dedicated to furthering winter cycling, and locally by the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. Keep up with the latest news from Winter Cycling Congress 2016 on the event’s website or follow the hashtag #WCC16 (official Twitter handle @wintercycle2016).
 

Entrepreneurs take note: MSP is open for business

Accolades for MSP’s enviable work-life benefits are flying faster and thicker than snow this season, and it’s getting tough to keep up with the latest hits. Earlier this month, influential personal finance site NerdWallet dropped the latest data-driven love letter to the Twin Cities: a Best Cities for Young Entrepreneurs roundup that placed MSP fifth, ahead of regional rivals (Madison) and heavy-hitting coastal tech hubs (Seattle and Boston).
 
The study examined about 180 of the country’s largest metro areas and assigned a young entrepreneur friendliness score to each. MSP earned its fifth-place spot thanks to two data points in particular: unemployment rate and SBA loan value per 100,000 residents.
 
On the unemployment front, MSP is peerless among major cities. Metro-wide unemployment was just a tick over 3 percent as of September 2015, the latest month for which final figures were available as the study went to press. That’s lower than San Francisco (3.4 percent), Denver (4.2 percent) and Washington, D.C. (7.5 percent).
 
The SBA loans metric is admittedly wonkier, but it’s a critical factor in local small business health. Many startups rely on SBA funding to get off the ground and gain traction; an adequate SBA loan is often the difference-maker for businesses navigating the dreaded “death zone” — the first two to three years of existence.
 
According to Jonathan Todd, the study’s author, the SBA loan factor counts for 20 percent of the overall score, more than unemployment rate, small businesses per 100 residents and other factors. MSP ranked seventh, just behind famously entrepreneurial Austin and industrious Salt Lake City — and well ahead of major metropolises like New York City, which ranked 52nd.
 
In the study, Todd notes that small business success comes down to a confluence of other factors: cost of living, educational attainment and existing resources for entrepreneurs. MSP has long led most other big cities with regards to cost of living and educational attainment. Until recently, though, it hasn’t done so hot on the admittedly hard-to-measure entrepreneurial resources metric.
 
Here’s a sign of change and that MSP’s startup-friendly secret is finally getting out: Industrious, a well-funded coworking company with outposts in more than a dozen major U.S. cities, recently opened a gleaming new space in the North Loop. Industrious’s arrival comes on the heels of COCO NE’s debut — joining the swelling ranks of private coworking spaces around the Twin Cities.
 
Entrepreneurs take note: MSP is open for business.
 
 

St. Paul's Pop Up Meeting van and plan are ready for 2016

Public Art St. Paul has big plans for 2016. Pop Up Meeting, the city’s ambitious drive to “increase diversity and participation in St. Paul’s urban planning process,” is leading the way.
 
Pop Up Meeting’s specially retrofitted, immediately recognizable red van hit the streets in 2015. Drivers Amanda Lovelee, a St. Paul City Artist, and intern Abby Kapler hold meetings during which they solicit survey responses, verbal opinions and other feedback, then “visibly and comprehensibly share” those ideas with others.
 
Pop Up Meeting had a great inaugural season. According to Lovelee, 70 percent of the initiative’s participants had never before engaged with the city planning process. “We think that’s a great measure of success,” she says.
 
This year, Pop Up Meeting aims to reach St. Paul’s most underrepresented citizens, particularly those with limited or nonexistent English fluency. Lovelee plans to use tablets to present questions and solicit feedback from respondents in their native tongues, rather than rely on ad hoc translators.
 
“[Non-English speakers] tend to be more disengaged from the planning process,” says Lovelee, “so we’re really doubling down on our efforts to reach them.”
 
No matter what language they speak, Pop Up Meeting participants get a free, locally made popsicle — courtesy of St. Pops — for their troubles. Lovelee tapped St. Pops to design a healthy, organic popsicle that “captures the flavor of St. Paul,” says Lovelee. They settled on mint lemonade, “which tastes like a super-delicious mojito, without the alcohol.”
 
“I lost count of how many popsicles I had last summer,” she adds. “Seriously, they’re amazing.”
 
Lovelee is putting together Pop Up Meeting’s official 2016 schedule this month, but the broad strokes are already clear. She’s devoting plenty of bandwidth to Mayor Chris Coleman’s 8 to 80 Vitality Fund, whose component projects include the River Balcony and elevated downtown bikeway loop. Lovelee also plans to spent lots of time in Highland Park, soliciting residents’ thoughts and visions for the Ford site redevelopment, which isn’t projected to begin until 2018 at the earliest.
 
“The city planning process is partly about getting out in front of big, multi-year projects and setting expectations that conform to residents’ needs and desires,” says Lovelee.
 
Besides Pop Up Meeting, Lovelee and Public Art St. Paul have some other big projects on tap.
 
Public Art St. Paul recently received a Knight Foundation grant to deploy pollinator-friendly streetscapes around the city. This ear a prototype will be constructed in a single St. Paul neighborhood “to make sure the plants survive the winter,” says Lovelee. Also this year, a mobile seed cart slated to distribute seeds to local residents will be launched.
 
At the corner of 10th & Robert, work just wrapped on the first biodiversity study of Public Art St. Paul’s Urban Flower Garden. The study’s findings will inform future work on that site through the 2016 growing season and beyond.
 
All in all, it’s shaping up to be a banner year for Public Art St. Paul. “Start dreaming of warm weather and popsicles,” advises Lovelee. “We’ll be out on the streets again before you know it.”
 

Ova Woman: The nation's only comprehensive women's health e-commerce community

Barely six months after its launch, Minneapolis women’s health startup Ova Woman is taking the reins as a national thought leader on issues routinely — and entirely without justification — dismissed as taboo.
 
Elise Maxwell, Ova Woman founder and CEO (and full-time Carlson School of Management MBA student), calls Ova Woman “the [country’s] only comprehensive, puberty-to-post-menopause women’s health e-commerce community.”
 
Maxwell is funding Ova Woman with the proceeds from two entrepreneurship competitions — $5,000 from the 2015 Acara Challenge and $31,000 from the 2015 MN Cup — and a $5,000 Sands Fellowship grant. According to remarks at October’s Minnesota Venture Conference, she’s targeting a $500,000 raise by June of 2016 and $1.6 million by the end of 2017.
 
Ova Woman publishes a lively mix of frank, useful content through four professional, if not always polished, channels: the Ova Vlog, a video blog usually featuring Maxwell and at least one friend or colleague; Your Questions, Our Answers, an in-depth question-and-answer resource with input from clinicians; Ova Stories, a long-form content portal; and The Speculum podcast, which “explores different intimate health issues,” says Maxwell.
 
Ova Woman is unsparing in its treatment of taboo topics. The inaugural Speculum podcast, for instance, devotes more than 20 minutes to the topic of douching; the second gives similar play to genital exams and anatomical awareness.
 
Maxwell wants to turn Ova Woman into an authoritative resource for fact-based information about women’s health, including potentially embarrassing issues that many refrain from discussing in public.
 
When it comes to women’s health issues, “[t]rust shouldn’t just mean a medical practitioner’s voice,” says Maxwell. “Other women’s opinions and experiences are valuable as well.”
 
Maxwell stresses that Ova Woman’s content isn’t meant to replace or counterbalance clinical advice. In the short term, her aim is to create a friendly, useful portal that offers actionable advice: a crowd-sourced alternative to WebMD.
 
Ova Woman’s longer-term plan — and the reason for its ambitious fundraising goal — is to build out a comprehensive retail platform with common and lesser-known products for a wide range of women’s health needs. There’s a huge market to reach: More than 100 million U.S. women experience incontinence, painful intercourse or period leaks, according to Ova Woman.
 
Ova Woman won’t manufacture its own products, at least to start. Instead, Maxwell plans to aggregate the best women’s health gear on the market for sale on its website, along with detailed, unbiased educational material, reviews and testimonials culled from a growing network of Ova Woman product testers: a cross between Amazon and Consumer Reports, with a laser focus on women’s health.
 
If Ova Woman’s retailing efforts are successful, says Maxwell, the company may launch its own white label — literally stamping its seal of approval on the best women’s health products available.
 

Northside Achievement Zone: A bottom-up approach to community empowerment

Minneapolis’ most ambitious antipoverty and community empowerment network just got a big boost. In early October, Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) received $6 million in combined grants from Target and General Mills — $1 million per year for three years from each company. These funds will help replace a federal grant that is ending.
 
NAZ has a revolutionary mission: to coordinate and empower “more than 40 local organizations and schools...working in radically new ways to permanently close the academic achievement gap and end poverty,” according to a Fallon-produced promotional video. Partner organizations include early childhood program providers like the YWCA and Minneapolis Public Schools; public, charter and private K-12 schools; expanded learning/mentoring programs like Plymouth Youth Center; health, housing and career organizations like Washburn Center for Children, Urban Homeworks and Twin Cities RISE!; and higher education institutions like Minneapolis Community and Technical College and the University of Minnesota.
 
NAZ is broadly modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, an antipoverty and childhood education network in New York City. But its huge partner network and bottom-up approach to empowerment make NAZ arguably the most ambitious initiative of its kind anywhere in the U.S.
 
NAZ specifically seeks out the most vulnerable, hard-to-reach families, many of whom face housing insecurity, chronic joblessness and other obstacles. Ideally, each participating mom enrolls her child before birth, signing a commitment to make college a top priority for the little one. She and her partner, if present, pair with a coach responsible for building a customized support plan with the family’s input — complete with “specific, individualized goals that make sense for that particular family,” all framed in terms of college-readiness, says NAZ communications director Katie Murphy.
 
The typical NAZ family works with various partner organizations to find suitable, stable housing, stay on top of their healthcare needs (including mental health, a big issue for new moms), improve financial literacy and enroll in parenting classes, among other things. As they grow, kids tap into these networks too; North High School, for instance, has NAZ academic coaches who work with students on site.
 
“When it’s time to meet with their academic coaches, students can just walk down the hall,” says Murphy.
 
NAZ’s new grants could help the organization reach a long-held goal — to impact 1,000 families and 2,500 kids, representing 40 percent of Northside families with children under 18 — as early as next year. NAZ is already most of the way there: At last count, the network had about 870 families and nearly 1,900 kids.
 
By 2020, says NAZ President & CEO Sondra Samuels, NAZ is poised to impact 1,700 or more families per year. That number includes families actively engaged with partner organizations, plus those who’ve “graduated” and no longer need to tap NAZ’s services.
 
Graduated parents and older students often assume mentorship or advisory roles within the NAZ structure. With preexisting social networks and ample reserves of community trust, says Murphy, current and past participants are NAZ’s most effective on-the-ground recruiters. When NAZ hires family coaches, they look exclusively at their roster of enrolled parents.
 
NAZ is so confident in its approach, and in the power of community-driven family empowerment in general, that it hands out T-shirts — to toddlers—proclaiming their expected college graduation year. For parents used to hearing that their kids won’t amount to much, or that they need to have “realistic” expectations, something as simple as a T-shirt can inspire belief in what’s possible.
 
“NAZ addresses the achievement gap by striking at the heart of the belief gap,” says Samuels, “and coupling the power to inspire with a proven system that provides our families with a ladder out of poverty.”
 
Though today’s NAZ takes a holistic approach to antipoverty work, its predecessor organization did far more targeted work. Founded in 2003, the PEACE Foundation was a “grassroots movement across race, class and geography [with] the common goal of significantly reducing violence in North Minneapolis,” according to NAZ’s website. The PEACE Foundation enjoyed ample community support, but stakeholders worried that it wasn’t doing enough to address the root causes of violence, including what Samuels calls “a direct correlation” between poor educational outcomes and violent crime.
 
“In recognition of the clear link between poverty, the educational achievement gap and violence, the PEACE Foundation was already moving toward” an approach that included support for families and early childhood education initiatives, says Samuels. “When we heard about the Harlem Children’s Zone, we realized that it was possible to pull all the levers that hold the people back and empower the community to change.”
 
“We’ve been told that what we’re trying to do is unrealistic,” she adds. “But we remind ourselves that every great advance” — women’s suffrage, marriage equality, putting a man on the moon — “was also ‘unrealistic’ once.”
 
 
 

Ignite Minneapolis provides window into local culture

Love TED Talks? Then Ignite Minneapolis, a cross between open-mic night at your local bar and a scripted TED Talks session, is for you.
 
Patrick Kuntz and a team of committed volunteers have organized nine semiannual Ignite Minneapolis events thus far; the latest (Ignite Minneapolis 9) went down on November 18 at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis.
 
The nearly three-hour event holds dozens of scheduled speakers to strict time and material limits: five minutes and 20 slides. The slides advance automatically, forcing speakers to keep up. That sounds scary, says Kuntz, but it’s actually a helpful crutch for nervous or less experienced presenters.
 
Ignite’s rapid-fire talks are, to put it mildly, eclectic. “There’s no set subject matter,” says Kuntz, “though our attendees tend to focus more on cultural and ‘writerly’ topics, and not so much on technical things.”
 
Ignite 9’s speakers and topics ran the gamut: light, if worthy, topics like ornithophobia (the crippling fear of birds) and reality television shared equal time with serious social and political issues such as sex trafficking in MSP’s Native American community and gender inequality in the Muslim community. The 700-plus attendees, who paid $15, tweeted actively and applauded heartily.
 
Kuntz can’t claim credit for inventing Ignite. Nor can any MSPer. Bre Bettis and Brady Forrest, with patronage from local media organizations, started the first Ignite in Seattle back in 2006. The format has since expanded to more than 300 cities across the globe.
 
But Ignite Minneapolis certainly captures the flavor of MSP. “The Ignite format is a window into local culture,” says Kuntz. “Every Ignite is unique and that’s the beauty of it.”
 
“Tickets typically sell out in minutes,” adds Kuntz. “We’re continually impressed and gratified by the community’s support.” Ignite Minneapolis 10 is tentatively scheduled for next April at the Riverview Theater.
 
 
 
 
 

Make It. MSP: New initiative designed to attract, retain talent

MSP’s economic vitality is a perennial source of envy for other metro regions. Some of the country’s most recognizable brands live here, unemployment is chronically low, and local educational institutions do an excellent job of preparing young people for the workforce.
 
But MSP can’t rest on its laurels. The competitive landscape is changing faster than many realize.
 
“The global economy is catching up with us,” says Peter Frosch, vice president of strategic partnerships at the MSP Regional Economic Development Partnership (GREATER MSP). “As other regions try to be more like MSP, our competitive advantage is waning.”
 
Meanwhile, the region’s labor force growth rate is slowing as employer demand for high-skill positions takes off. Even if every current MSP high school student graduated from two- or four-year college on time, the region’s homegrown talent pipeline wouldn’t be sufficient to fill the growing “skills gap.” To keep pace, MSP needs to pull talent from other U.S. and international regions. Problem is, few outsiders know much about MSP beyond “It’s cold, right?” And they certainly don’t know whether they’d want to move here, should the opportunity present itself. (“It’s cold, right?”)
 
That’s where Make It. MSP. comes in. Make It. MSP. is “an initiative designed to attract and retain talent” in MSP, while “[seeking] to improve the transplant experience for new residents as they put down roots in the community,” according to a GREATER MSP release.
 
Make It. MSP.’s most visible component is an interactive online portal that leans heavily on user-generated input. The Q&A page, for instance, is a clickable panel of open-ended questions about life in MSP: favorite month to be outside, what’s great about your neighborhood, what makes MSP different than other places, and so on.
 
“Authentic stories, told by real people, are critical to Make It. MSP.’s success,” says Frosch.
 
Make It. MSP. also features an in-depth, internally generated rundown of MSP, geared toward individuals and employers. Topics include arts and culture, cities/neighborhoods, outdoor activities, cost of living and weather.
 
Finally, Make It. MSP. has an impressive, MSP-centric careers portal, complete with tens of thousands of job postings from regional employers — a one-stop resource for current residents looking to change jobs (key to retention) and recently relocated “trailing spouses” who need jobs of their own.
 
According to Frosch, Make It. MSP.’s scope is unprecedented both here and around the country. Though Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit all have similar attraction strategies, “[Make It. MSP.] is a next-generation approach to attraction and retention that functions as a comprehensive resource for workers and families,” not just a glorified visitors’ bureau.
 
Formally announced October 13, Make It. MSP. is the fruit of a two-year collaboration between upward of 80 MSP employers (including blue chip companies like St. Paul-based Ecolab), public institutions (including the University of Minnesota) and a host of nonprofit organizations, collectively dubbed the “makers’ network.” Makers’ network participants agreed on five goals to focus and shape Make It. MSP.:
  • Improve social inclusion, particularly for newcomers, people of color and “rising leaders” (Frosch: “We don’t want people to struggle to fit in or struggle to find passion for months or years here”)
  • Support innovative talent, including traditional entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, creatives and others
  • Connect talent to community
  • Connect talent to employers
  • Close near-term talent gaps, particularly in technology and engineering disciplines
 And Make It. MSP. isn’t just for people and employers who’ve never set foot in MSP. It’s also about keeping members of MSP’s diaspora — people who’ve moved away for school or jobs — informed and engaged around their home region. Diasporans who’ve stayed in touch are more likely to remember MSP fondly, the thinking goes, and jump at opportunities to return.
 
“Make It. MSP’s message [for wayard Minnesotans] is simple,” says Frosch. “We say, ‘This is home. If you leave, it’s always okay to come back.’”
 

Thread Connected Content puts the focus on creative storytelling

Thread Connected Content is MSP’s newest independent creative agency — and it’s an overnight powerhouse, thanks to its cofounders’ combined decades of agency experience, a multidisciplinary approach to creative campaigns, a unique penchant for high-touch storytelling and one of the most unique internship programs around.
 
Launched in July on St. Paul’s East Side, Thread already has 30 employees and is hiring for a handful of additional positions: digital designers, account managers and others as the need arises.
 
Thread’s client roster, burnished by its cofounders’ and employees’ past professional relationships, is already wildly diverse: blue chips like 3M and Target coexist comfortably alongside public institutions like Mia, and MSP originals like The Wedge Co-op and FOOD BUILDING.
 
“Our client strategy is a three-legged stool,” says Kim Rudrud, vice president. The first leg is “large companies with multiple brands and distinct visions,” like 3M and General Mills, she says. The second is the middle market, broadly defined: mostly MSP-, Minnesota-, and Midwest-based companies with eight- or nine-figure annual revenues and “similar cultural philosophies,” says Rudrud. And the third is “passion projects,” clients that more traditional firms might work with on a pro bono basis to burnish their creative bona fides and impress deeper-pocketed prospects.
 
“We’re not looking to leverage [the third leg] so that someone bigger and better walks through our door,” says Rudrud. “We’re actually passionate about helping these clients.” Earlier this year, Christiana Kippels, Thread’s director of accounts and business development, brought in a friend who’d just purchased St. Paul’s Treadle Yard Goods and sought to rebrand on a shoestring budget.
 
Thread’s diverse client base is reflective of its cofounders’ and employees’ diverse professional backgrounds. Many came from top-tier MSP creative agencies, like Campbell + Mithun (now simply Mithun) and Olson. Some cut their chops as internal communications and branding gurus: Kippels came over from Thymes’ product development department. Others have boutique backgrounds: Rudrud honed her storytelling intuition at WomanWise, a marketing research consultancy that “uncovers insights into what makes people tick,” she says.
 
Thread’s diverse staff, in turn, supports an impressive range of in-house capabilities: market research, brand strategy, copywriting and graphic design, technical digital marketing work, video production and more. “We do have outside research partners,” says Rudrud, “but we handle the bulk of our research and all of our production work internally.”
 
According to Rudrud, Thread’s in-house approach sets the agency apart from MSP’s smaller independents — and even many of the region’s biggest players, which tend to farm out labor-intensive production to specialized studios. “It’s not an accident that we call ourselves a ‘studio,’” says Rudrud.
 
Thread has a couple other differentiators up its sleeve, too. Compelling stories, not overcooked data, form the nub of each Thread campaign. According to Kippels, other agencies have “veered away from the creative side of marketing and branding,” creating an opportunity for an agency willing to mount comprehensive, authentic and human-scale — if subjective — campaigns.
 
“Human relationships are messy in the best possible way,” she explains. “More than ever, [marketing] is about creating useful, authentic experiences.”
 
When it comes to messy and authentic, thread definitely walks the walk. The agency’s website deftly blends what you’d expect from a well-produced business property — succinctly described services, employee headshots and bios, “about us” copy — with edgy, interactive elements that drive interaction. Each service description, for instance, ends with an open-ended question and live tweet button, inviting visitors to loop their followers into the conversation. Thread’s “Connect” page is a constantly evolving social feed that changes daily. Even its website logo is interactive, morphing and changing color in response to qualitative social media interactions (“a major development challenge,” says Rudrud).
 
In its employees’ admittedly biased collective opinion, Thread offers MSP’s best creative-industry internship. Dubbed “Spool,” Thread’s three- to six-month program is “not your typical internship,” says Rudrud. “Spoolers” hail from diverse academic backgrounds — from graphic design and comp sci to English lit — and can choose from several openended programs (“blogs to code,” “apps to animation,” and others).
 
“In many cases, we just give [interns] cameras, send them out into the world and tell them, ‘See what you can find,’” says Rudrud. The current crop recently spent a week producing and editing creative content onsite at the FOOD BUILDING, for instance. The results, says Rudrud, were “amazing.”
 
“The Spoolers are our Ph.Ds of pop culture,” says Rudrud. “As digital natives, they see the world differently — they provide us with insights that we don’t have and help us tell stories that we couldn’t tell on our own.”
 
 

FocusStart, a startup that gets medical devices to market

Bringing a new medical device to market is a costly, time-consuming process. Innovations that seem like a slam dunk in the research lab often turn out not to work as intended during development. Clinical trials require minute, painstaking attention to detail. Federal regulators, understandably, demand proof that any new device is reasonably safe and works as its manufacturer claims. Each of these steps requires adequate funding and skilled manpower.
 
At the end of it all, Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance firms must be willing to reimburse providers that use the device. With rare exceptions, devices that don’t qualify for reimbursement—a highly complex consideration—fail to find traction in the market.
 
“Even with unlimited funding, it can take two years or more to complete the process for relatively simple medical devices,” says FocusStart founder and CEO Dr. Daniel Sigg.
 
Sigg and FocusStart co-founder Peter DeLange, who previously ran a successful medical device startup called Devicix (recently purchased by Nortech Systems, a local medical engineering company), had each spent years searching for a better early-stage device development model. When they met a few years back, they quickly realized their professional skills complemented each other.
 
So they founded FocusStart, a St. Paul startup that shepherds promising medical technologies through the tricky testing and development phase, refines validated devices for commercialization, and seeks strategic partners (typically multinationals) to complete the regulatory approval process and actually bring devices to market. FocusStart’s model is less capital-intensive than traditional medical device development models, though the company still assumes risk for technologies that don’t pan out during development.
 
FocusStart currently has four promising technologies in its portfolio: a cardiac product that may reduce blood clot risk following certain surgical procedures; a urological catheter that may reduce the risk of certain infections; a “smart” respiratory inhaler; and a “tissue tension sensor” that may promote better outcomes following partial and total knee replacement procedures.
 
Sigg and the team are devoting substantial energy and attention to the tissue tension sensor, which is capable of directly measuring ligament tension without requiring an invasive cut. Direct measurement enables surgeons to properly “balance” the knee during the replacement procedure, reducing the likelihood of complications or outright failure.
 
The sensor could potentially benefit other orthopedic procedures, such as rotator cuff and ACL surgeries, though FocusStart is concentrating on knee replacement for now. According to Sigg, it also has potential as a training tool for newer surgeons, who lack the intuitive “feel” of more experienced operators.
 
Although each technology is different, FocusStart’s development approach is fairly standardized. First, the company approaches a research institution to work out a licensing agreement for the technology. FocusStart works with the University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic, the University of Zurich (in Switzerland) and an Israeli inventor.
 
“We quickly found that these agreements are fairly standard, with some variation,” says Sigg.
 
FocusStart generally would pay a royalty on future sales of the product, possibly with an equity component to sweeten the deal for the institution should the technology find its way into a marketable device.
 
“We find it easier to develop relationships locally,” says Sigg, adding that his Swiss background (he grew up in Switzerland and attended medical school at the University of Basel) probably helped with the Zurich partnership.
 
FocusStart’s lean model helps, too. “Once [our partners] understood our approach, we become more successful in finding very interesting technologies,” says Sigg. And the combined expertise of the firm’s principals—Sigg was a board-certified anesthesiologist and subsequently amassed almost two decades of medical research and development experience, while DeLange had the business chops to build Devicix into a successful concern and boasts insider knowledge of the medical device field—doesn’t hurt.
 
But that doesn’t mean swift success is assured. FocusStart has been “fortunate” to receive National Institutes of Health grants during the early going, but the company continues to seek government grants and private funding—a process that will likely continue as Sigg and DeLange seek out and develop promising new technologies.
 
There’s no such thing as a perfect batting record in the medical device business. “As we do our own work, we may find challenges or problems that weren’t apparent previously,” says Sigg. “Occasionally, you have to know when to say ‘that’s it’ and walk away [from a technology].”
 

Turning MSP into the Silicon Valley of med tech innovation

In August, downtown Minneapolis-based healthcare incubator TreeHouse Health teamed up with LifeScience Alley, a local biotech accelerator, for a well-attended demo day called Healthcare Innovation Is Alive and Well in Minnesota. According to Dr. John Blank, a TreeHouse Health cofounder (and, previously, a pediatric oncologist and health system administrator), the event supported TreeHouse’s ambitious-sounding mission: to turn MSP into the “Silicon Valley of medical technology innovation.”
 
Healthcare Innovation is Alive and Well featured lectures and workshops on pressing issues facing early-stage medical technology and life science companies — raising capital, bringing ideas to market, becoming cashflow-positive and more — plus an open, craft brew-fueled networking hour with some of the region’s top healthcare decision-makers.
 
But the real stars of the show were the innovative startups tapped to pitch their solutions to the high-profile crowd. Many were current TreeHouse Health tenants: Cellanyx, whose diagnostic solution could revolutionize the industry’s approach to certain cancers; PerkHealth, a virtual health coaching app that made The Line’s 10 life-changing startups list last year; and VitalSims, an education platform for medical professionals.
 
TreeHouse Health’s portfolio is compelling. But Blank believes that if MSP is to live up to TreeHouse’s “Silicon Valley” promise, more needs to be done to support current and future medical technology entrepreneurs. At the moment, MSP lacks a critical mass of native venture capitalists willing to go out on a limb for potentially disruptive healthcare ideas.
 
Blank cites an early-stage health IT firm, currently in residence at TreeHouse Health, that had struggled to meet a $2 million funding round target with local backers despite a proven technology solution and more than $1 million in annual revenues. After six or seven months of banging on doors in MSP, the firm broadened its search and eventually completed the round with outside investors.
 
“There are plenty of investors interested in the health IT space,” says Blank, a Massachusetts native, “but they’re mostly based on the East or West Coasts and tend to fly over Minnesota.”
 
That’s why Blank and the TreeHouse team are fanatical about boosting the visibility of the companies in and outside of TreeHouse’s portfolio, starting with initiatives like the Life Science Alley collaboration.
 
TreeHouse is also working to attract promising companies that began life in regions better known for tech innovation, like Boston (arguably the capital of the U.S. life sciences industry) and the Bay Area. According to Blank, TreeHouse currently has one tenant from each region, with an eye for more.
 
A key selling point for TreeHouse and MSP in general, he says, is location. “You can easily travel anywhere in the continental United States and back within a 24-hour period, or even in the same business day” from MSP, says Blank. He mentions a TreeHouse tenant that recently flew overnight to Seattle for morning meetings with hospital executives there, then caught an early-afternoon flight back in time for dinner—a nearly 3,000-mile round trip in less than 24 hours.
 
“That kind of turnaround isn’t possible when you’re based on the coasts,” says Blank.
 
Another big advantage for MSP: a diverse array of established medical “payers” (health systems like Mayo and HealthPartners), insurers (like UnitedHealth Group), and device/technology manufacturers (like Medtronic and St. Jude Medical).
 
In other words, local life science and medical technology startups that do manage to find funding here are apt to find lots of paying customers close by, regardless of niche—an important measure of security for any early-stage company. Over the long term, that existing customer base, coupled with a healthy dose of Minnesota nice, should prove enticing for coastal entrepreneurs looking to relocate to a cheaper, business-friendly locale.
 
“[MSP] is one of the few places in the country where you have Fortune 100 companies in every major healthcare sector,” says Blank. “And it’s a friendly enough place that you can make real progress toward building a professional network within a few days.”
 

LogicStream makes MSP heathcare smarter

Healthcare spending accounts for a huge chunk of national GDP. And with dozens of major providers, insurers and medical device companies headquartered in and around MSP, the sector is absolutely critical for the local economy.
 
But the healthcare industry is notoriously inefficient. “Up to 30 percent of every dollar spent on healthcare is wasted due to unnecessary variations in care,” says Patrick Yoder, founder and CEO of LogicStream Health.
 
Yoder and LogicStream co-founder Dan Rubin want to bring healthcare delivery into the 21st century by making hospitals, clinics and individual medical professionals smarter about the care they provide.
 
Dozens of hospitals around the country believe in LogicStream’s solutions. Fairview, one of MSP’s largest hospital systems, is a current client; so is Yale-New Haven, a prestigious East Coast provider. LogicStream has nearly 500 ambulatory (walk-in) clinics in its system, too; not bad for a company that got its start just two years ago and still offices out of TreeHouse Health, a downtown Minneapolis healthcare business incubator.
 
LogicStream is built around the aptly named LogicStream Intelligence Platform, an algorithmic “learning system built for standardization,” as Yoder described it in an October 1 presentation at the MN Venture Conference. The goal of the LogicStream Intelligence Platform is to “improve clinical quality, provider satisfaction and cost efficiencies throughout the enterprise [while reducing or even eliminating] some critical hospital acquired conditions,” according to the company’s website.
 
While the technical aspects of LogicStream’s platform are complex, the gist is simple: It runs the huge amounts of data generated by each patient’s journey through the hospital or ambulatory clinic through a constantly evolving algorithm that spots trends and develops “rigid, clinically appropriate” (in other words, medically sound) protocols to reduce the risk of complications or waste.
 
LogicStream’s platform is designed to develop protocols rapidly, without hands-on human guidance. The platform’s speed and accuracy allows it to cover potentially thousands of life-threatening conditions that can affect hospital and clinic patients.
 
One early success: venous thromboembolism, a common clotting condition responsible for thousands of hospital deaths each year. According to a LogicStream case study, one client “reduced the rate of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in post-surgical patients by more than 80%, resulting in a significant overall decline in associated morbidity and mortality and $1.1M in cost savings.”
 
Yoder notes that, in most cases, reducing VTE risk is straightforward: Upon admission, “a patient’s care team needs to assess his or her individual risk for clots,” he says, not rely on statistical data that may not be relevant to the situation. LogicStream’s VTE protocols include an individual risk assessment; most electronic health records (EHRs), which clinicians use to track patient data and monitor condition changes, don’t.
 
As more clients discover LogicStream’s solution, Yoder expects the LogicStream Intelligence Platform to scale rapidly. At MN Venture, he projected three- to four-fold growth in total protocol content between Q3 2015 and Q1 2017, a huge boost to the platform’s power and reach. The company currently has 12 employees, and that count is likely to increase through 2016.
 
Job Listings
 
  1. Executive Vice President of Sales, Minneapolis (downtown)
 
 

Adventures with a Locavore Offers Fitzgerald Art Deco Walking Tour

Any attentive MSP citizen knows that F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, was a born-and-bred St. Paulite. Fitzgerald’s most famous novel explored the excesses of 1920s “Jazz Age” culture in the New York City area, but St. Paul was a pretty hopping place back then, too. Now, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age tour, hosted by St. Paul pastry chef and local historian Joan Mathison, lets you experience the era firsthand.
 
“I looked at the assets that would differentiate St. Paul from Minneapolis and appeal to a wide audience of travelers and potential residents,” explains Mathison, founder of Adventures with a Locavore. “It also happens that the 1920s is my favorite era in history.” Her next tour commences on Saturday, October 10.
 
Mathison’s tour, a walking excursion that winds through downtown St. Paul, hits more than a dozen examples of Art Deco design—an ascendant architectural style during the 1920s.
 
“St. Paul is the only city designated as a Distinctive American Destination by the National Trust, so I decided to focus the tour on historic preservation,” she says.
 
Mathison also conducted a fair bit of original research during the run-up to her inaugural tour this year. She was particularly intrigued by the old Kilmarnock Bookstore, which (according to period maps) sat at the corner of 4th and Cedar in downtown St. Paul.
 
Founded by a wealthy intellectual with a penchant for rare books and managed by a talented, aspiring writer (Thomas Boyd of Through the Wheat fame), the Kilmarnock was never financially successful. In fact, it lasted less than a decade. But for a brief period during the early 1920s, it was the haunt for the cream of the American literary crop. On cold winter afternoons, Fitzgerald and other young writers met around the fireplace in the Kilmarnock’s smoky back room to trade stories and inspiration.
 
“The important thing I learned from that research was how critical collaboration is to innovation,” says Mathison. “The young writers that gathered in the back room of the avant-garde Kilmarnock Bookstore to talk about their work and other books...did the best work of their careers during those few years in the early 1920s.”
 
As an ode to the Jazz Age’s literary side, Mathison chose to pair the tour with three well-known books (not all written in the 1920s): Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a nod to “St. Paul's sustainability evolution;” The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, which ties in to former St. Paul mayor George Latimer's downtown revitalization efforts; and, naturally, The Great Gatsby.
 
The Kilmarnock inspired Mathison to connect with the just-as-vibrant community of modern artists and makers who live and work in downtown St. Paul. Mathison produced a “Meet the Makers” guide highlighting some of downtown’s top creatives; every tour-goer gets a complimentary copy.
 
Featured makers and artists include Susan Brown of Mademoiselle Miel, Stephen Gallilvan of Leprechaun's Dreamcycle, Alicia Hinze of The Buttered Tin, Jeff Moriarty of Tin Whiskers, Monica Larsen and Bill Moran of Hamilton Ink Spot, and Jan Selby of Quiet Island Films.
 
John Anfinson, superintendent of the Mississippi River & National Recreation Area, Lee George of the James J. Hill Center, and Andy Sturdevant of Springboard for the Arts are also involved.
 
Longer-term, Mathison wants to bring her special brand of walking tour to other MSP neighborhoods. “I'm curious about 38th and Chicago [in Minneapolis], and Lake Street is so amazing,” she says. “The more tours we can offer in the Twin Cities, the higher we’ll raise our profile as a tourist destination.”
 
 

Beekeeping chocolatier grows hyper-local product with national placements

MSP’s rapidly growing pro-pollinator community is turning the region into an urban oasis for honeybees and other pollinating insects, raising the likelihood that future generations will know the joys of easily accessible fresh produce and biodiverse green spaces.
 
But plenty of intrepid pollinator entrepreneurs are focused on the here and now. Susan Brown of Mademoiselle Miel, a hyper-local sweet treats company based in downtown St. Paul, was an early evangelist for pollinator power—and continues to inspire a growing cohort of makers, chefs and educators who earn a living at the intersection of urban agriculture, environmental stewardship and old-fashioned craftiness.
 
Mademoiselle Miel is a “beekeeping chocolatier” specializing in rich chocolate honey bon-bons, many wrapped in edible 23 karat gold leaf—“a brilliant union of elegance and raw nature,” according to Brown’s website. The bon-bons come in several varieties, including a decadent Scotch infusion and various seasonal flavors.
 
The honey for Brown’s bon-bons comes from hives situated on rooftops throughout MSP—for instance, at Union Depot (near Brown’s downtown St. Paul headquarters) and atop Tiny Diner in Longfellow. The bees collect pollen from whatever flowers happen to be in bloom, providing Brown’s creations with an ever-changing array of local flavors.
 
Brown has been fascinated with bees and honey since she her youth. Ironically, though, she hasn’t always been a fan of honey’s taste. “I didn't actually like the taste of honey when I was young,” she told CityPages earlier this year. “I just started cooking with it because I was trying to eat in a way that made me feel good.”
 
In the intervening decades, Brown embarked on a successful cooking and catering career that found plenty of uses for the sticky substance. But she didn’t start making honey full-time until 2011, when she launched Mademoiselle Miel in St. Paul.
 
Hungry for a hyper-local alternative to sickly sweet candies and ho-hum storebought honey without a distinctive terroir, MSP foodies embraced Brown’s concept with gusto. Her creations quickly found their way into high-end cooking stores like Cooks of Crocus Hill and crunchy grocery outlets like Seward Co-op.
 
Brown’s products have since appeared in prominent hotel and restaurant properties around the area: high-end Minneapolis hotels like the Hyatt Regency, W Minneapolis and Le Meridien Chambers are customers, as is Surdyks Flights (at MSP International) and the Walker Art Center.
 
More exciting still, Mademoiselle Miel has lately joined a growing list of successful Minnesota exports. Brown’s sweet creations aren’t quite as well-known or widely available as SPAM and Post-it notes—yet —but they’re nevertheless available at select boutiques in New York City, Seattle and the Washington, D.C., area. More accounts could be in the works, though Brown’s production capacity is somewhat limited by bee, hive and rooftop counts.
 

MiX builds momentum with 2015 speaker series on innovation and engagement

The Minneapolis Idea eXchange (MiX) was launched a year ago during an interactive event at City Center featuring city leaders, performances and networking between the hundreds of attendees curious about MiX. The brainchild of the city’s Downtown 2025 Plan’s Festival of Ideas committee, MiX’s purpose is to bring together citizens and visitors with energetic thinking and civic engagement in order to further Minneapolis’ already considerable vitality.
 
On September 28, and October 1 and 2, MiX builds on its momentum with a free speaker series created in collaboration with Westminster Town Hall Forum. Pete Docter, a Bloomington native who helped create the blockbuster films “Toy Story,” “Wall-E,” “Up” and “Inside Out” with Pixar Animation Studios, speaks on Monday, September 28 (7 p.m.), on “Inside the Creative Community: The Power and Process of Animated Film.”
 
Later in the week, on Thursday evening (7 p.m.), October 1, author and social justice advocate Tavis Smiley will galvanize audience members with his talk, “No One Left Out: Creating Communities of Justice.” Friday, October 2, at noon, Minnesotan Dan Buettner — explorer, educator and three-time world record holder for endurance bicycling — discusses Blue Zones, the organization he founded to help people live longer, healthier lives.
 
The overall idea behind the series, says Mary Shaffer, co-chair of the MiX organizational committee, “is to inspire people to think about how they want to live, work and play in their city.” To that end, activities will also take place outside of Westminster Presbyterian Church (the location for the speaker series), at the corner of Nicollet Mall and 12th Street.
 
“We’re not only offering participants a chance to hear these high caliber, nationally recognized speakers, but we’re also activating the area outside the church to bring new energy to that part of the city and further conversation,” Shaffer says. The Independent Film Project will capture attendee responses to Docter’s speech and their thoughts about the future of Minneapolis; a screening of a Docter film may also take place. Brave New Workshop will host improv workshops in conjunction with Smiley’s talk. The downtown YWCA will offer fitness classes and the Minneapolis Bike Coalition will be present for Buettner’s appearance.
 
“For last century, Minneapolis has been a leader in innovation,” says Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, senior pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, and chair of the MiX committee. “MiX is simply picking up on the innovative, creative spirit of civic engagement in our city. The three speakers will each bring fascinating and provocative perspectives to the question of how we can be a better city and better citizens.”
 
Continuing, Hart-Andersen adds that, “Part of what makes Minneapolis work so well is the social connectivity, and the civic engagement, not only inside board rooms, classrooms, labs and churches across the city, but also over a beer and something good to eat. The space we’re activating at the end of the mall will give people the opportunity to enjoy food and beverages, share time together and further the conversations that began with the speakers.”
 
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