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SPS Commerce positioning retail supply-chain software for global presence

SPS Commerce, a retail supply-chain software company that occupies six floors in downtown Minneapolis’ Accenture Tower, has added about 200 employees since 2012. “And the rate of hiring is not slowing down,” says Peter Zaballos, VP of marketing and product. SPS Commerce has more than 800 employees as of this month. The company just added a new floor to its downtown headquarters, with an option for additional space in the building.
 
“We’re positioning to become a world-class, global supply-chain business” in the tech space, he adds. “That’s making us a magnet for talent in the Twin Cities region and around the world.”
 
Most of SPS’ employees work at its Minneapolis headquarters. The firm also has a big presence in New Jersey, as well as international operations centers in Beijing, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Sydney, Melbourne, London and Kiev. Each office will grow “organically” even as SPS adds employees in Minneapolis, says Zaballos.
 
SPS Commerce’s ambition got big boost last month, winning MHTA’s prestigious Tekne Award for best software platform in the “established company” category. SPS was one of 12 Tekne winners this year, out of more than 100 entrants. According to an SPS release, the company won plaudits for “embracing innovation and the changes that today’s retailers are facing, while giving global organizations access to an established online trading community.”
 
“The Tekne win really communicates to the local and national tech communities that SPS is on the forefront of the ongoing reinvention of retail,” says Zaballos. “We’re on the move.”
 
SPS Commerce is also raising its profile in the booming Twin Cities tech community. The company’s CEO and CTO earned Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s prestigious Titans of Technology Award in September. And the company routinely hosts events for programmers and business professionals at its offices.
 
“We enjoy sharing our success with other members of the local technology community,” says Zaballos. “It’s a great opportunity.”
 
Zaballos and other SPS executives are thrilled with the Twin Cities tech community’s progress. Zaballos came to SPS less than three years ago, after extended stints in major coastal tech hubs: Silicon Valley, Boston, Seattle. He’d never set foot in the Twin Cities. But he was “stunned by the breadth, vibrancy and depth” of the industry.
 
“The quality of the people here is amazing,” he says. Local professionals are also “aware of the game they’re playing”—a game, Zaballos argues, largely controlled by elites in the Bay Area and New York. “To compete on a global basis, you need to play in that league,” which the Twin Cities does very well, he says. Finding competent, talented workers is easy here.
 
SPS Commerce helps retail clients manage and expand digital sales channels, providing analytics, inventory management and seamless interfacing with suppliers and other software platforms.
 
“Things that seem easy to do when you’re shopping online are actually super complicated for retailers,” says Zaballos. A dramatic increase in mobile device use complicates matters further. “Mobile shoppers are especially high maintenance,” he says.
 
More than 55,000 retailers and suppliers now use SPS’ solutions. But most local residents have still never heard of SPS Commerce, despite current revenues of nearly $130 million.
 
When Zaballos took his current job, the company had no marketing department to speak of. “Our sales team was and is really good at getting suppliers into our network,” he says. “We got to around $100 million in revenues and tens of thousands of users before anyone [outside the retail industry] had heard of us.”
 
SPS kept its low profile despite an IPO back in 2010. It’s listed on the NASDAQ, under the ticker symbol SPSC. “Being public is a big advantage for us,” says Zaballos. “Prospective clients and employees can look at our annual reports and financial disclosures and know that we’re a fundamentally sound, growing business.”
 
One item of note in SPS’ public filings: The company currently has $170 million in cash on hand, an impressive sum for a firm of its size. That cash pile will support SPS’ aggressive hiring and expansion drives—and possibly spur more exciting investments in the future.
 
And the company is finally investing in publicity for itself. “We’re thrilled to be telling our story,” says Zaballos. “We want talented Twin Cities professionals who share our values to see a future with us.”
 
Current SPS Commerce Job Listings in Minneapolis
 
  1. Account Executive
  2. Business Analyst
  3. Marketing Acquisition Manager
  4. Software Engineer
  5. Supply Chain Strategist
 
 

Urban Growler expands menu, kitchen, beer selection and distribution

Urban Growler is booming. And co-founders Deb Loch and Jill Pavlak have a lot on their plate, from a long-awaited kitchen and menu expansion to a new Kickstarter campaign and a rapidly growing distribution footprint. The St. Anthony Park brewery now has 22 employees, with 17 between the brewery and taproom, and 5 in the kitchen. That’s up from about a dozen when the brewery first opened.
 
“We thought we could get by with 12 or 13 people,” says Pavlak, but Urban Growler’s runaway popularity quickly spurred another hiring round. “You need to have enough [employees] to provide excellent customer service,” she says. “That’s what keeps people coming back.”
 
The kitchen expansion tops on the agenda. Pavlak hopes to have the kitchen expanded by mid-winter, but warns of unexpected delays or complications.
 
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned since we began,” she laughs, “it’s that timetables can slip.” She and Loch had to push back Urban Growler’s opening date several times due to unforeseen complications.
 
The new kitchen’s menu will expand to include burgers and other entrees made from organic, locally sourced meats. Urban Growler cultivates relationships with local producers whenever possible, says Pavlak, noting a particularly poetic relationship with Mark and Jesse Gilbertson, a pair of western Wisconsin farmers who frequent the St. Paul Farmers’ Market. Pavlak hands off Urban Growler’s spent grains to the Gilbertsons to be used as animal feed
 
“They tell us their cows, hogs and chickens love them,” says Pavlak. “The grains are sweet, but also wholesome and protein-rich.”
 
Once the new menu is in place, Pavlak and Loch plan to buy beef, and possibly pork and chicken, from the Gilbertsons, creating a sustainable circle. Pavlak says the new kitchen may also use spent grains in house-made bread and cookies, though “we’re still working on the recipes,” she warns.
 
Pavlak says the new kitchen’s Kickstarter campaign should be live before Christmas, but details on the funding amount and timeline still have to be worked out.
 
Separately, Urban Growler is also feverishly producing more beer to satisfy an expanding roster of brewery and restaurant clients, despite frustrating delays in fulfillment for Urban Growler’s branded tap handles. “We’re still sending out prototype tap handles,” laughs Pavlak.
 
Distributed beers include Cowbell Cream Ale, City Day Ale and Graffiti IPA. Most confirmed accounts are in the western suburbs, but Pavlak mentions Bar Louie in Uptown and Muffuletta in St. Anthony Park as local adopters. In October, a Muffuletta-Urban Growler beer dinner sold out in seven hours. “[Muffuletta’s manager] said that was a record,” says Pavlak.
 
Beyond the kitchen, Urban Growler’s interior configuration is changing for the better. Come January 1, the co-founders will take over a storage area next door that will house a gigantic cooler that now juts out into the seating area. The expanded kitchen will occupy part of its former footprint, with expanded seating and standing room in the remainder.
 
And Pavlak and Loch are weatherproofing the brewery, widely known for its spacious, sunny patio. An interior vestibule, installed in November, should shield the high-ceilinged brewhouse/taproom from outdoor cold.
 

Parking Panda helps take pain out of parking

Drivers can now reserve and pay for parking spots in advance at most major sports and event venues in the Twin Cities, including the XCel Energy Center, Target Center, Target Field and the Hennepin Theater Trust, thanks to Baltimore-based Parking Panda. The parking-logistics company entered the Twin Cities market within the past 12 months and has already amassed more than two-dozen clients.
 
That initial response vastly exceeded Parking Panda’s expectations. Target Center saw more than 3,500 reservations for a single concert, says Parking Panda marketing director Bryan Lozano, just days after the company went online there.
 
“The Twin Cities has quickly become one of our best markets,” says Lozano. “We’re providing a service that really wasn’t available before and tapping into the region’s dynamic urbanism,” he adds. Parking Panda, he continues, is one more solution in a transportation mix that includes a world-class bike infrastructure. and multiple bus and train lines running connecting the two cities.
 
Lozano ascribes Parking Panda’s rapid adoption to its “great partners.” The company works directly with teams, like the Minnesota Wild and Twins, to promote its parking services and encourage fans to reserve space ahead of time. That reduces congestion before and after games.
 
“One of the biggest drivers of traffic and congestion is people driving around looking for parking,” says Lozano.
 
In addition to major sports and entertainment venues, the company also contracts with garages near West Bank academic buildings, the Minneapolis Convention Center and in the heart of Uptown’s business district. All are big draws for out-of-towners likely to be impressed by the Twin Cities’ smooth parking and transit infrastructure.
 
Parking Panda lets garage and lot operators set prices for individual parking spaces on the Parking Panda site. Drivers can search for spaces near their destination, selecting the cheapest or most affordable ones, and then reserve and pay in advance. Parking Panda takes 20 percent of each transaction and forwards the remaining 80 percent to operators.
 
Though it doesn’t yet do so in the Twin Cities, Parking Panda also lets homeowners and small business owners rent out extra spaces in small lots, driveways or alley, creating new income streams for individuals.
 
Parking Panda doesn’t have a local office, though a single sales rep does support operations in the Twin Cities. The company is exploring opportunities to organize parking for major events like the Minnesota State Fair—which could involve working with hundreds of property owners in Midway and the North Side of St. Paul. That may require a more robust local infrastructure and could create more opportunities for frustrated Twin Cities’ drivers.
 
“Parking can be a painful experience,” says Lozano. “Parking Panda works every day to take the pain out of parking.”
 
 

BoomBoom Prints: New local online shop for baby/parent accessories

Twin Cities’ parents have a new source for unique, high-quality baby apparel and nursery decorations: BoomBoom Prints, an online marketplace based out of an “informal coworking space” in downtown Minneapolis. BoomBoom Prints (BBP), says Jennifer Weismann, BBP’s PR consultant, is “Etsy meets Pottery Barn.”
 
Fresh off a July 2014 launch, BBP already has 4,000 unique pieces for sale and about 500 participating designers—many of them based in the Twin Cities. The company has four full-time employees and three part-timers, says CEO Brett Brohl, with tentative plans to add more after the holidays.
 
A recently closed fundraising effort earned $400,000, a tidy sum for a startup. “Our funding round allowed us to make key hires, invest in our platform and expand our offerings,” says Brohl. BBP started as a marketplace for wall art, he explains, but now offers clothing, stationery and baby/parent accessories as well.
 
Founded by new dad Ryan Broshar and “serial entrepreneur” Brohl, BBP sources designs from a rapidly growing community of artists—including many in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
 
“I heard about the site from a friend of a friend,” says Twin Cities’ artist Kate Worum, who chose BBP as her first online sales channel. “BoomBoom Prints felt more approachable: They are local, have the artists’ interests in mind and they advertise by word of mouth.”
 
Worum is not alone. Another local BBP artist, John Gerber, has created such items as a bib captioned “Feed me” and a onesie that asks “Who you calling baby? Thought so.” Kate McCollow’s wall art features baby-themed fantasy scenes and serene watercolors depicting familiar Twin Cities’ landscapes.
 
BBP artists set their own prices, using the company’s suggested multipliers to arrive at a fair retail price. BBP then takes a cut of the sale and passes the rest on to the designer.
 
Though the Etsy comparisons are inevitable, Brohl points out a key difference: BBP is completely turnkey, handling every nitty-gritty aspect of selling artwork online, from printing and shipping to returns and customer contact. Etsy and other online marketplaces ask artists to do these tasks.
 
Worum appreciates BBP’s full-service approach. “I run a freelance illustration and design business by night, and work as a trend forecaster for apparel and accessories at Target during the day,” she says. Her hectic schedule makes it impossible to fulfill orders herself or even print her own work. “With BoomBoom Prints, all I have to do is make my art, click a few buttons and move on with my day.”
 
There may soon be more local “BoomBoomers” like Worum. Though about 50 percent of BBP’s designers are international, says Brohl, “we’re really concentrating our efforts on developing artists in our backyard. There’s so much artistic talent and diversity here.”
 
Brohl and his team often reach out directly to local artists and invite them to sell their work on BBP. With no upfront costs, they’ve already found lots of takers. “We’re excited about the future,” says Brohl. “We’re making a go of it.”
 

Outsell racks up impressive growth figures

Outsell, based on the 32nd floor of the Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis, is one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. according to Inc. Since 2010, Outsell has roughly tripled its employee base and quadrupled its revenue. The company earned a spot (#455) on the 2014 Deloitte Fast 500, a closely watched list that tracks revenue growth at public and private North American companies. According to Deloitte, Outsell is Minnesota’s third-fastest growing tech company.
 
And Outsell shows not signs of slowing down. The company has added 15 jobs this year, bringing its total headcount to more than 100, and predicts an equal or greater number of employees for 2015.
 
“Our people are our most important asset by far,” says founder and CEO Mike Wethington. “We’re constantly looking for talented, self-starting candidates, especially web developers, data analysts and marketing specialists.”
 
Outsell’s current office space measures about 18,000 square feet, with a variety of spaces that encourage collaboration. Depending on the pace of hiring next year and beyond, says Wethington, his company may soon need to exercise an option to expand into the Capella Tower’s 31st floor.
 
Outsell was started in 2004, when Wethington, a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” bought Judson Bemis’s Solv Technology, which had developed an online lead generation solution for auto dealers. Wethington and his first employees improved and streamlined the platform, developing analytics to predict customer preferences and deliver automated, high-value marketing material.
 
For instance, a recent car buyer might receive emails or texts advertising oil changes, tune-ups and vehicle-appropriate accessories consistent with the buyer’s past purchasing and web navigating habits. “We customize and automate everything for the dealers so they can devote more resources to selling and fixing cars,” says Wethington.
 
“The experience is brand-consistent, like Amazon,” he explains, allowing independently owned and franchised dealers to use the same platform and analytics as others selling the same model. Outsell currently works with about 1,000 U.S. dealers and seven automotive brands, sending out automated communications to about 10 million consumers per month.

If you’ve recently purchased a new or used vehicle from a franchised dealer, there’s a good chance Outsell is behind the marketing emails and texts it sends you.
 
Despite its reach, there’s room for Outsell to grow. Dealers spend well over $1 billion per year on marketing, says Wethington, and many don’t yet use automated customer-contact solutions.
 
Even as Outsell racks up impressive growth figures and finds new ways to improve the customer experience, the company devotes significant resources to employee retention. The company offers unlimited paid time off, with no questions asked, and no distinction between sick days and vacation time, a rarity in the modern workplace.
 
“We place a lot of trust in our employees,” Wethington explains. “We expect them to take care of their work and reward them for holding up their end of the bargain,” –i.e., getting their work done on time.
 
Outsell also offers a profit sharing program for all associates, including entry-level employees, as well as performance bonuses, a matching 401(k) and tuition reimbursements for associates looking to further their careers with advanced degrees.
 
In a typical year, says Wethington, Outsell devotes 3 to 5 percent of total operating income to charitable contributions. The company’s employee-led Caring Committee partners with the Minnesota Keystone Program to distribute financial resources and manpower to groups like the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the ASPCA.
 
Giving back to the local community is a win-win experience for employees, says Wethington—just like every workday at Outsell. The company’s perks earned it a spot on a recent Star Tribune list of best Minnesota work environments.
 
“We love being based in the Twin Cities,” he says. “We’ve got a talented, smart, kind workforce that understands the value of hard work and doing the right thing.”
 
Outsell Jobs in Minneapolis
 
Senior Software Analyst

Senior Software Developers
 
 

Aimia's move to downtown Minneapolis adds momentum to 2025 Plan

The Minneapolis Downtown Council recently announced that Aimia, a consumer loyalty and engagement management firm, would move its U.S. headquarters, along with more than 300 employees, to a 50,000-square-foot space in the North Loop’s Butler Square building. Aimia previously occupied space in a Plymouth office park near I-494.
 
Aimia is the latest company to relocate, expand or retain space in downtown Minneapolis since the launch of the Minneapolis Downtown 2025 Plan. Other notable companies include CenterPoint Energy, Valspar, XCel Energy, Olson and Be the Match. Three years into the Downtown 2025 Plan, the momentum is palpable.
 
“Aimia saw the merits of moving downtown...and all the opportunities and progress on display here right now,” says Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council & Downtown Improvement District. “Our mission is to create an extraordinary downtown.”
 
One of the core goals of the Downtown 2025 Plan is to create a more vibrant, energetic downtown for workers, businesses and residents. Another goal is to accelerate economic and cultural progress by eliminating the either/or distinctions between those three categories. The plan recognizes that a truly world-class downtown core needs a diverse mix of uses, and a high density of people, ideas and economic activity.
 
“Cities with a strong central business district thrive because they have companies, big and small, working in close proximity [and collaborating] with clients and partners,” Cramer says. “When the area as a whole succeeds, it creates new opportunities for everyone involved.”
 
The addition of thousands of new residents has raised downtown Minneapolis’s profile, too. With a broader, more creative pool of potential recruits within walking or biking distance, talent-driven companies like Aimia find it much easier to justify the temporary cost of moving downtown.
 
“Our population has risen to more than 37,000 people,” Cramer says, “and we’re seeing apartments and condos under construction across the area.” The increasing density of creatives downtown dovetails with other Downtown 2025 Plan initiatives, including the recently announced Minneapolis Idea eXchange and a street beautification partnership with the University of Minnesota’s College of Design.
 
Aimia’s move is just another sign of how far downtown Minneapolis has come. “For the first time in decades, we’re seeing an incredible trend of people moving in toward the downtown area,” Cramer adds.
 
“Downtown Minneapolis is a leader for the [Twin Cities] region,” he adds. “If it thrives, the region as a whole thrives.”
 
Aimia Jobs in Minneapolis
 
Director of Business Development - CPG, Retail, Finance
 
IT Sales Engineer
 
Mobile Delivery Manager
 

Prohibition Kombucha: Hippie elixir to haute mixer

The latest craft brew to come out of Minneapolis-St. Paul isn’t made from barley and hops. It’s Prohibition Kombucha, a fermented beverage made from high-quality teas and fruit or floral flavorings.

The tasty product of a partnership between former Herkimer brewer Nathan Uri and Verdant Tea founder David Duckler, Prohibition is the region’s first homegrown kombucha. The company’s three kombucha flavors are available at about a dozen co-ops, coffee shops and farmers markets around the Twin Cities, including Mill City Farmers’ Market, Seward Co-op, Spyhouse and Kopplin’s Coffee.

Uri has bigger aspirations, though: He’s teaming up with Minneapolis-based Tree Fort Soda to build a larger kombucha brewery at a to-be-determined location in the Twin Cities.  Eventually, Uri envisions a product line available at cafes, restaurants and grocery stores throughout the country, plus satellite breweries on the East and West Coasts to supply customers in other regions.

Prohibition Kombucha’s creations are healthy -- really healthy. “Depending on the quality of tea and type of yeasts and bacteria used, there can be varying levels of amino acids like L-theanine, healthy sour acids like malic and acetic acid, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients,” says Uri. “Our kombucha is also low in sugar and calories, slowing the glycemic load of a meal when consumed with food.”

According to Uri, all Prohibition Kombucha varieties have less than one gram of sugar per ounce and no more than 56 calories per pint.

Popular with the counterculture movement in the Southwest and West Coast, kombucha is novel concept in the Twin Cities. “Currently, the main reason people drink Kombucha is for the probiotic content,” explains Uri, “which can be as simple as one bacteria or as many as 20 beneficial yeasts and bacteria.”

The microbes ferment a mixture of tea, sugar and other natural ingredients, producing carbonation, crisp flavors and a trace, non-intoxicating amount of alcohol. A multi-organism fermenting base is called a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts, or SCOBY.

Kombucha doesn’t always taste great, though. Without naming names, Uri fingers “some other brands” that have a funky, sour, “sharkbite” flavor that’s too tangy to be pleasant. Prohibition uses high-quality black and oolong teas, plus carefully selected secondary ingredients, to achieve a “crisp, cider-like acid-sugar balance,” Uri says.

The fermenting process does produce trace amounts of alcohol -- less than 0.5% by volume. Though 0.5% isn’t intoxicating, Uri and Duckler are sensitive to sober customers’ concerns.

“We completely and unequivocally respect and support” those who avoid kombucha for any reason, says Uri. “That said, others in recovery enjoy our Kombucha without issue. It's a very personal choice and we want everyone to lead healthy and happy lives, so we label our product accordingly.”

In fact, Prohibition Kombucha probably wouldn’t exist if not for Uri’s temporary decision to quit drinking. In 2012, while living in Portland, he hankered for the sensory and aesthetic experience of a fine wine, great beer or perfect cocktail.” He tried his first “small batch craft” kombucha, loved it, and began brewing kombucha at home.

Soon realizing the importance of quality tea to quality kombucha -- many other kombucha producers use low-quality teas or “the bare minimum” of a higher-grade variety, he says -- Uri moved back to the Twin Cities and contacted Duckler, an old friend. Now, Uri exclusively uses Verdant Tea’s black and oolong teas in his kombuchas.

“Since [Duckler] sources the finest, freshest and highest quality Chinese teas available in the US, it’s a natural partnership,” he says. One that could soon bring a fermented, cocktail-quality and (almost) totally non-alcoholic beverage to your local coffee shop or grocery store shelf.

 

Creative City Roadmap welcomes arts insights

Creative City Roadmap, the City of Minneapolis’ ambitious plan to highlight and strengthen the city’s creative assets, is entering its next phase. Until November 21, an online survey allows city residents to share insights about Minneapolis’ current cultural strengths and offer new ideas for widening the city’s “dot” on the American cultural map.
 
The results of the survey will inform the drafting of the actual Creative City Roadmap, a 10-year arts and culture plan to be released in 2015. The Creative City Roadmap will replace Minneapolis’ current 10-year arts and culture plan released in 2005.
 
In addition to inviting rank and file Minneapolitans to take part in the survey, the city tapped two “artist engagement teams” to “engage with people [around the survey], especially those who are part of traditionally underrepresented and underserved communities,” says Rachel Engh, creative economy program associate for the City of Minneapolis.
 
The teams include local creatives Chrys Carroll, Keegan Xavi, Sha Cage and E.G. Bailey. Their duties encompass in-person surveying, “anecdotal data gathering” through community engagement initiatives, and drafting and editing the Creative City Roadmap document.
 
The Creative City Roadmap process is run by a steering committee that oversees five working groups focused on core intersections of the creative economy: placemaking, creative engagement, lifelong learning and sharing, supporting artists’ work and the arts’ relationship with the “mainstream” economy.
 
“The role of arts and culture in the city of Minneapolis, and the way the city chooses to support these industries and activities, is changing,” says Engh. “The Creative City Road Map’s vision is that arts and cultural activities have the capacity to expand the economic pie and help more people reap benefits.”
 
“Many major U.S. cities have citywide arts and culture planning documents,” she adds. “[We’re also] acknowledging the value a new plan for arts, culture and the creative economy could have for Minneapolis,” both by “making Minneapolis a more welcoming and desirable place to live and giving underserved Minneapolitans access to economic and social returns.”
 
Creative City Roadmap kicked off with a September 17 public house at the Textile Center on University Avenue and a September 24 followup event at the Pillsbury House & Theater in South Minneapolis. The information-gathering phase of the project will run through September 2015, with regular programming and feedback during that time. According to Engh, at least two more open houses, in the mold of the Textile Center and Pillsbury House events, are planned for the coming months.
 

The Foundation expands in Minneapolis and to San Diego

The Foundation is moving its 20+ employees from a small office shared with Atomic Data into a bigger space in the recently renovated Ford Center, near the heart of the North Loop. The “single source IT provider,” which serves as a one-stop help desk for design, architecture and nonprofit firms that use Apple systems, is also opening a new office in Co-Merge, a coworking space in San Diego, in what could be the first phase of a multi-city expansion.

A rapid expansion and a shift into mobile device support for national retail chains “caused us to run out of physical space” for housing employees and “storing pallets of iPads and iPhones,” says Matt Woestehoff, director of operations and business development. “Meanwhile, Atomic Data”—a data center operator co-owned by Jim Wolford, sole owner and CEO of The Foundation—“was growing rapidly and basically kicked us out of their office,” Woestehoff says with a laugh.

The new digs are “definitely an upgrade,” he adds. The Foundation shares one floor of the Ford Center with Seed, a small startup incubator that focuses on biotechnology and other high-tech ideas. Seed uses an old chemistry lab on one side of the building.

The Foundation’s new space belonged to a boutique soap manufacturer, a longtime client of The Foundation’s, which moved its operations to Milwaukee after a buyout by Johnson & Johnson. The space has a 32-desk bullpen and easy access to a highly secure storage area for valuable electronics. The Foundation has access to a guest parking lot, a huge perk for the 300-odd local clients that had to use meter parking at its old location.

Though The Foundation is growing rapidly, the Ford Center space should be fine for the foreseeable future. Unlike many IT companies, The Foundation lacks an office-based salesforce. “We’re not salesy people,” says Woestehoff. Instead, the company relies on referrals and search traffic to generate new business. The company’s engineer-heavy workforce spends “40 to 45 hours per week, per person” on site at local clients’ offices, freeing up space at the Ford Center.

The flexible work model first led Woestehoff and the team to explore the possibility of a second office last year. Two employees, an engineer and operations specialist, expressed interest in moving to southern California and remaining part of the team. Woestehoff investigated and found that San Diego’s business culture is remarkably like the Twin Cities’, “very forward-looking in terms of technology, but laid back and supportive too,” he says, without the competitiveness of tech hubs like San Francisco and New York.

Using The Foundation’s experience with CoCo, “a valued partner” that the company has worked with for years, Woestehoff found Co-Merge and set the two employees up there. It’s still early going, but initial business development efforts have been successful. He’s confident the move will pay off, noting that other cities with similarly forward-looking yet supportive cultures could be ripe for additional offices for The Foundation.

But not too fast. In today’s fast-paced IT world, The Foundation, now in its 15th year, prides itself on patience and strategic thinking. “A lot of our friends have gone out of business because they’ve acted fast and made mistakes,” he says. “If it takes another 15 years to open a third office, so be it.”
 

Detroit chef Tunde Wey brings movable feast to MSP

Tunde Wey, a Detroit chef with a reputation as hot as his cuisine, is making his way to Loring Park on November 11. He’s on a mission to “unfetter diners from the tedium of modern American cuisine,” using the newly opened Third Bird (on Harmon Place) as his canvas for Lagos x Minneapolis.
 
Wey’s ticketed event features a six-course meal of authentic Nigerian dishes, including a traditional rice pilaf, peppered goat and fried plantains. The gathering is aptly named after the capital and largest city of Wey’s home country. The event, Wey says, is a way for American diners “to allow themselves to be colonized by Nigerian food,” which isn’t as popular in the Twin Cities as many other ethnic cuisines.
 
“Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with about 150 million people in an area the size of Texas,” Wey says. “So I find it amazing that its cuisine isn’t more widely available.”
 
Then again, says Wey, “Nigerian food” is something of a misnomer. His home country’s cuisine is much like what’s available in across West Africa, which has a common climate and dozens of cultures with a shared, ancient history. Labeling country-specific cuisines is a much newer concept, the byproduct of European colonial activity in the region.
 
The idea of an authentic, intimate West African experience in a newly opened restaurant resonated with Kim Bartmann, owner of the Third Bird and the force behind such notable Minneapolis-St. Paul establishments as the Tiny Diner, Red Stag Supper Club and Barbette. Wey and Bartmann met at IMG’s Urban Innovation Exchange in September, and the partnership quickly took root.
 
“It seemed to be a good match,” says Wey. He’ll be first on a slate of monthly guest chefs that Bartmann wants to feature at the Third Bird.
 
Wey formerly co-owned (revolver), a “permanent pop-up” restaurant in Detroit’s up-and-coming Hamtramck area. Typically open just two days a week, (revolver) hosts a “revolving” slate of notable, innovative chefs from around the U.S. and world, allowing them to create a completely new menu during temporary stints in the kitchen.
 
Though (revolver) raised Wey’s profile considerably, he came to feel that the restaurant constrained his creativity. (revolver)’s guest chefs were all incredibly talented, but most adhered to the orthodoxy of modern American cuisine. Six months after opening (revolver) with his business partner, Wey was regularly experimenting with traditional African dishes—“what my mother, grandmother and relatives on back have been cooking for hundreds of years.” Earlier this year, he sold his shares to his partner and left (revolver) behind.
 
“People were very supportive of the idea behind Lagos,” says Wey, “which gave me the confidence to go out and do this.”
 
Without a permanent restaurant home, though, Wey is keen to drum up even more public support. In addition to Minneapolis, Lagos has made stops in New Orleans and Chicago, with Cincinnati, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Brooklyn still to come.
 
Asked what he’s looking to take away from the experience, Wey says, “I have no expectations. I’ll take whatever the good people of Minneapolis want to give me.”
 
When the Lagos tour ends, he does have his sights set on opening a Nigerian (or West African) restaurant in Detroit. Longer-term, he can see himself as a restaurateur in the mold of Bartmann, opening unique, independently branded restaurants in Detroit and other Midwestern cities.
 

Midwest Innovation Summit showcases startups focusing on sustainable technologies

Hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors and corporate executives gathered at the Depot Hotel in Minneapolis on October 27 and 28 for the Midwest Innovation Summit, an annual gathering that showcases what’s next in technology and manufacturing across the region. About 75 exhibitors were on hand, including promising Minnesota startups like 75F—winner of this year’s Minnesota Cup— and Water Meter Solutions, which operates out of CoCo Minneapolis.
 
“The Midwest Innovation Summit is about attracting entrepreneurs and business leaders from all across the region to display any solution that uses natural resources more efficiently,” says Justin Kaster, executive director of Midwest CleanTech Open, the summit’s sponsor. “Many of the exhibitors here are committed to sustainability for ethical and environmental reasons, but [Midwest Innovation Summit] really shows that clean technology is a great business opportunity as well.”
 
In innovation capitals like the Twin Cities, Kaster adds, entrepreneurs and investors have “started to respond to that value proposition” over the last decade. “Everyone realizes that clean technology is a win-win situation now,” he says. “You don’t have work overtime to convince people of that anymore.”
 
Several Twin Cities companies have clearly bought in. Water Meter Solutions makes two water-saving technologies. Floo-id is a “smart toilet monitoring device” that allows property managers and homeowners to monitor their toilets’ water use in real time, quickly identifying leaks and other issues that could affect their water bills. Floo-id is powered by flowing water, making it energy neutral. Water Meter Solutions’ other technology, H2O Pro, performs a similar function for entire buildings’ water systems, offering value to multi-unit landlords.
 
Nearby, Minneapolis-based Irri-Green’s exhibitor booth showed off the Genius irrigation system, a patent pending lawn-watering setup that analyzes landscape contours and other factors to deliver water as efficiently as possible. Each Genius irrigator’s range overlaps precisely with that of the next, “eliminating the wasteful, overlapping arcs of water that conventional irrigation systems” produce, says Irri-Green.
 
Garden Fresh Farms, a Minneapolis startup and 2013 Minnesota Cup division winner with an aquaculture facility in the city, was on hand as well. The fish in the company’s growing tanks continuously fertilize the plants suspended above them, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that produces plant and animal products for harvest.
 
These local companies are part of what Kaster calls “a regional ecosystem of innovation.” He urges entrepreneurs, investors, nonprofits and government entities across the Midwest to “think bigger than the city or county level” and “move past the state versus state competition” that can hinder the exchange of ideas, people and investment. The Northeast, Kaster says, is a great example of a region where innovators have banded together to create sustainable, big-picture solutions, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
 
“We have a tremendous amount of intellectual and creative capital here in the Twin Cities,” he says. “Events like the Midwest Innovation Summit are conduits for ideas and investment from nearby areas” that ultimately raise the profiles and prospects of local innovators.
 

St. Paul Healthy Transportation convening engages communities in sustainable transit

The St. Paul Healthy Transportation for All Convening, held on October 25 at Carpenter’s Hall in St. Paul, found St. Paul’s alternative transportation advocates celebrating their movement’s growing momentum and planning for challenges ahead. The goal of the conference, according to St. Paul Healthy Transportation for All (SPHTFA), was to “actively engage St. Paul grassroots community leaders to create a sustainable multimodal transportation system.”
 
“Based on what our planning team has heard from community members, walkable streets with safe and accessible infrastructure is the most widespread issue,” says Lauren Fulner, who coordinates the “District Council [members], transportation focused non-profits and relevant agencies” that comprise SPHTFA. “[Our unofficial motto is] ‘everyone is a pedestrian at some point', so...awareness of the pedestrian realm is a natural place to focus.”
 
As SPHTFA’s first major event, the Convening drew community leaders and citizens from nearly every St. Paul neighborhood. At workshops and breakout sessions, participants learned how to lead conversations and initiatives around public and alternative transportation, collaborate with counterparts in other communities, and work directly with city and state decision-makers to effect positive change.
 
The Convening covered most of the day’s hot transit topics. Workshops included “You and the St. Paul Bike Plan,” “Racial Equity in Transit Decision Making” and “From Vision to Plan to Project.” The event also featured a session devoted to “Organizing Friendly Streets and Better Blocks,” which highlighted Fulner’s work with the Friendly Streets Initiative. And the conference explored useful tools for transportation advocates, including an “Equitable Development Scorecard” and a “walkability/accessibility survey” for SPHTFA attendees.
 
Despite St. Paul Healthy Transportation for All’s community-driven focus, the conference attracted key state and local leaders. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman opened with remarks on St. Paul’s transportation system, followed by Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger’s keynote speech on the health benefits of walking, biking and public transit. Charles Zelle, Minnesota’s Transportation Commissioner, closed with remarks on past and future developments in road use and public transit.
 
According to Fulner, SPHTFA formed out of “several years of conversations around more intentional collaboration and sharing of resources between District Councils,” with the Macalester-Groveland and Hamline-Midway councils taking the lead. Fulner stresses that SPHTFA is “in it for the long haul, in the sense that [this isn’t] a one event or one meeting kind of project,” she says. “We want to foster increased collaboration and creative, big picture thinking in community members and decision makers.”
 
SPHTFA takes a “whole city” approach to transportation, paying special attention to the needs of traditionally underserved communities and marginalized demographic groups, such as the elderly and people with disabilities. While celebrating the better-than-expected debut of the Green Line, Fulner is quick to point out that it “does not serve many of the traditionally under-represented and under-resourced neighborhoods and populations.”
 
“There needs to be more focus of the city as a whole, including the East Side and the West Side [meaning the area south of downtown],” she adds.
 
Overall, Fulner and SPHTFA would like stakeholders and citizens to recognize the fundamentally interconnected nature of St. Paul’s urban fabric and work to strengthen it. “Transportation and health are both issues that function in a web of interconnectivity, rather than as a series of isolated issues, and should be addressed with this in mind,” she says.”
 

WAM recreating iconic photo with Green Line train

The Weisman Art Museum’s (WAM) Wanderlust event, on Friday evening starting at 7 p.m., was named for the museum’s fall exhibitions—all of which are related to travel or transportation. One of those exhibitions, “Trains That Passed in the Night: The Photographs of O. Winston Link,” has inspired an elaborate re-creation of a signature Link photo using a Green Line train.
 
The re-creation is based on Link’s most famous photograph, which captured one of the country’s last commercially operational steam trains in the mid-1950s. The photo was shot at night, using flashes that illuminated the sides and top of the train, with a drive-in movie theater—replete with a symbolic airplane onscreen—in the foreground.
 
The recreated photograph will capture a specific Green Line train traveling out of the East Bank Station at around 7:15 p.m. The new image, overseen by well-known photographer and University of Minnesota assistant professor of photography Paul Shambroom, will feature a couple holding an iPad in the foreground, with the train negotiating a curved section of track in the middle ground.
 
Ten crews made up of MFA students and local photographers will set up lighting and other equipment (mostly donated by local companies) at various points along the route. Metro Transit will prepare the interior of the train with special lighting for better contrast. A radio-controlled system will ensure all the flashbulbs go off simultaneously.
 
“Paul really jumped on the idea when we pitched it to him,” says Erin Lauderman, WAM’s communications director. The completed photograph will hang in one of WAM’s galleries next to Link’s work.
 
The free Wanderlust event also includes “EXISTENTIA,” a performance art piece by Robert Niebor; Native Kids Ride Bikes, a traveling collection of lowrider bikes crafted by Native American kids from Michigan; and smoothies mixed using bicycle power.
 

Hothouse @ MIA sponsors creative coworking event

Hothouse @ MIA, Sarah Lutman’s pop-up coworking space in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ (MIA) Villa Rosa Room, just reached the end of its 12-week run. To sustain momentum for the experiment, Lutman is partnering with OTA and Philadelphia-based coworking guru Alex Hillman to produce “What’s Up with Alex Hillman,” a TED-style conversation this Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. in the MIA. Thursday’s event, coupled with “ongoing conversations with fellow Hothousers,” could help Hothouse secure a permanent location somewhere in the MIA.

“What’s Up with Alex Hillman” is the final event of several produced with the participation or collaboration of Hothouse residents. “Hothouse participants who produce public programs as part of their professional work were tasked with directly connecting the MIA to their programs during the 12-week pilot,” says Hunter Wright-Palmer, MIA’s Venture Innovation Director. “Programs as diverse as Climate Hack Twin Cities, Chris Farrell's Unretirement, Sing the Museum, and an FD:13 performance by Jen Rosenblit were enhanced by authentic connections to different elements of the MIA and the collection.”

On Thursday, Hillman—founder of Philadelphia’s Indy Hall coworking hub and first-time Twin Cities visitor—will talk about “taking an active role in creating community and pursuing ‘the good life,’” says Lutman, MIA’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Hillman defines “the good life” as one “rich with relationships, ideas, emotions, health and vigor, recognition and contribution, passion and fulfillment, great accomplishment and enduring achievement.”

The overarching goal of “What’s Up with Alex Hillman” is to spark conversations about creative approaches to coworking here in the Twin Cities, using Indy Hall’s community-driven art shows, readings, pop-ups, farmers’ market and spin-off organizations as models. Those conversations could help determine the future of Hothouse and coworking at the MIA. 

“There are a lot of spaces at the MIA that are episodically not in use,” says Lutman, stressing that no decisions have been made about how Hothouse will look or where it will “live” if it returns later this year or next.

“[Lutman] and I are working together to determine the future of Hothouse,” says Palmer-Wright, “exploring...benefits thus far from both the participant side and MIA side to address next steps.”

Hothouse @ MIA, and community-driven coworking more broadly, is an important component of MIA’s development strategy, which “emerged directly out of two prongs of our strategic plan DNA, audience engagement and [revenue generation],” says Palmer-Wright. For Lutman, Hothouse offered an opportunity to “foster [community] connections and create an opportunity for authentic co-working experiences,” a longtime passion. Hothouse naturally arose from the intersection of these complementary goals.
 
“Hothouse posed an opportunity to connect a new audience with new ways to use the MIA's resources by activating our collection, physical spaces and staff to catalyze innovation, productivity and connection in the everyday work of Hothouse members,” explains Palmer-Wright.

Like Indy Hall, Lutman’s inspiration, Hothouse is more than a “transactional” coworking space where independents share resources with peers but otherwise remain aloof. Rather, Hothouse is “an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the MIA in the daily lives and needs of members,” says Palmer-Wright.

“The key differentiator between Hothouse @ MIA and other co-working spaces, locally or nationally, is the intentional connection between the co-working members and the MIA,” she adds.
 

Green Line Theater animates light-rail line on Saturday

Green Line Theater, an “original, mobile theater production” sponsored by the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative’s Catalyst Fund, will enliven the Green Line at 1 p.m. this Saturday, Oct 18, (or 1 p.m. this Sunday, in the event of a rainout). The production—created in partnership with the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s (MMAA) Project Space exhibition “From There to Here”—includes visual art and performances from artists Wing Young Huie, Ashley Hanson and Jessica Huang, as well as from members of the communities surrounding the Green Line.

The play comprises five scenes at five stops—Raymond, Hamline, Dale, Capitol/Rice and Central—and explores the “rich history, stories and collective memories associated with [Green Line] neighborhoods,” according to the MMAA. Creatively, it’s an extension and expansion of “Bus Stop Theater,” a Creative CityMaking collaboration that brought Huie and Hanson together last year.
 
Huie, Hanson, Huang and others developed the script in close consultation with Springboard for the Arts, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, and the African Development Center. The three organizations held “workshops and street engagements to collect stories about the neighborhoods along the Green Line,” using the information to “inform the script for the interactive play,” according to MMAA.

The audience will travel together from scene to scene, using the light rail as transportation, in a style of site-specific theater know as mobile theater. “Utilizing public transportation to move from scene to scene is not anything we have heard of happening here before last year, when [Wing and I] produced ‘Bus Stop Theater’,” Hanson says.

“The idea behind this type of mobile theater is to get the audience engaged with their public transportation system, the landscape that it moves through, and the other people who utilize public transportation,” adds Hanson. “In a way, we are turning transit vehicles into community meeting places.”
 
In addition to her work along the Green Line, Hanson’s PlaceBase Productions—a collaboration with artist Andrew Gaylord—puts on site-specific performances at locations across Minnesota. Paddling Theater, for instance, makes its way through the Minnesota River Valley by boat. We use “mobile theater to connect audiences to their physical landscape by producing stories...in the landscape [where they] occurred,” Hanson says.
 
Performers and audience members meet at the parking lot for 2314 University Ave W, near the Raymond Station. Though “Green Line Theater” is free, register for the event. A free, open-admission reception follows the last scene at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, in downtown St. Paul.
 
“We hope to continue exploring this medium in the hope that more people will bring theater outside the box,” Hanson says, “and engage with an audience that might not otherwise attend a theater production.”
 
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