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Groundswell hosts artwork from MMAA/Galtier School collaboration

During a two-week residency, a group of 33 students from St. Paul’s Galtier Community School collaborated with the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) on a multifaceted art project called CuratorKids. The 4th and 5th grade students’ artworks will be exhibited at Groundswell, a nearby coffee shop, from Dec. 16 through Jan. 19. In the spring of 2014, the childrens' artwork will also be exhibited by MMAA.    

MMAA developed CuratorKids to address “the shortage of art education in our public schools by offering a program that brings art and practicing artists directly to the kids,” MMAA  materials state.

Through the program, students examined a handful of artworks from the museum’s collection, according to Heidi Swanson,  technology integration specialist at Galtier. Students then wrote poems about the museum pieces. The following week, students responded to the artwork in a different way -- by making mixed-media collages. In their collages, Swanson says, "They made artistic choices relating to color, objects, and emotion.”   

Diana Johnson, a consultant to the program, says the museum pieces became “source material" for the students. “These kids really were responding emotionally and aesthetically" to the museum works, she says, which they "turned into their own work."

After the residency wrapped up, the students recorded podcasts of their poems and videos of their collages. Their poems can be listened to online here.  

Johnson hopes the project helps the students gain confidence in artmaking, as well as in academic subjects. The school hasn’t had an art program for a number of years. But CuratorKids shows students that “they can do things they didn’t know they could," she says. "If they stick with it, they can surprise themselves and see that the world around them cares and is interested in them."   

As if in response to that sentiment, a group of school volunteers pitched in $300 to frame the collages for the coffee shop exhibit, according to Swanson. At Groundswell, the students’ recordings will be accessible online via QR codes that can be scanned by smartphones.  

Swanson hopes the residency inspires students’ ongoing creativity. Through programs like CuratorKids, she says, "We hope to build a bridge to our community and create opportunities for our students to share their successes beyond the school walls." 


Source: Heidi Swanson, technology integration specialist, Galtier Community School
Writer: Anna Pratt 















EO survey shows "It's a good time to be an entrepreneur"

A recent survey from the Entrepreneurs Organization of Minnesota found that entrepreneurs are in a good position to hire more workers. More and more, entrepreneurs are also feeling confident about where the economy is headed--and it's up.

The organization, a chapter of a larger network of entrepreneurs around the globe, collected feedback from 72 Minnesota companies that achieve $1 million or more in revenue each year. 

Kevin Burkart, president of the local chapter, says the bottom line is that, “It’s a good time to be an entrepreneur.” 

The annual study is a strong economic indicator. “Small business owners are significant drivers of many economies,” he says. 

As much as 71 percent of entrepreneurs across the state are poised to hire more full-time workers, the study found. Likewise, 62 percent plan to bring on more part-time workers in the next six months. The consensus among survey participants is that the economy is steadily improving. 

Also, the vast majority of survey participants were optimistic about the prospect of starting a new venture in the next six months. 

That jibes with the national organization’s findings. The trend has been positive over the past few years, with a consistent increase in hiring, particularly in the U.S., according to Burkart. The findings relate to the potential evident in the “domestic rebirth in manufacturing in the U.S., with companies insourcing instead of outsourcing,” as costs overseas go up, he explains. 

From 2006 to 2010, survey responses went in the opposite direction. But entrepreneurialism tends to thrive in challenging economic times. “More people get laid off and they pursue those entrepreneurial ideas,” Burkart says. 

The next 5 to 10 years “are rich for the U.S. economy,” he says. “I think the future is bright for entrepreneurs and our annual indicator survey supports that conclusion.”  


Source: Kevin Burkart, president, StepStoneGroup and Entrepreneurs Organization of Minnesota 
Writer: Anna Pratt 












New mobile app development school strives to push local tech scene

Smart Factory, a new school for mobile app development located in Minneapolis’s Uptown neighborhood, is on a mission to deepen the tech talent pool in Minnesota. 

Jeff Lin of Bust Out Solutions, and Mike Bollinger of TechdotMN and Livefront, who are friends and colleagues, founded Smart Factory, which held its inaugural classes in October.   

The need for Smart Factory rose out of rapid changes in the web and mobile industry, Lin says. “Formal academic training can’t keep up” with the changes, he says, adding that some developers find it difficult to stay on the cutting-edge while working a full-time job. 

The tech scene is “already being pushed forward by market forces and people’s desires and interests. We hope to help that cause by training people directly,” he says.

Smart Factory's program is aimed at experienced designers and engineers who want to expand their skills, especially those related to web and mobile app technology. Companies can also send employees to the school to gain software development skills, as opposed to having to outsource those skills.     

Six-week classes, led by leaders in the field, cover Mobile UI Design, Ruby on Rails, Web Production, iOS Development, and Android Development. Students follow along with the lessons on their laptops. 

Class sizes are no more than 16 people, to ensure everyone gets plenty of individual attention, Lin says. Two mentor-teachers lead the classes, as well. “In programming and design courses, there’s a lot of hands-on activity, so it’s always good to have one-on-one time with teachers,” he says. 

Additionally, students are expected to spend another 10 to 15 hours on their studies outside of the classroom, according to Smart Factory materials.  

Lin hopes the school fosters collaboration within the local tech community. “We want to educate people about what we’re passionate about," he says. "It’s less of a competition and more of a collaboration. Collaborative competition is good too."

Although schools like Smart Factory are popping up around the country, few exist in the Twin Cities. With the opening of Smart Factory, Lin expects other schools to will launch within the next couple of years. 

Source: Jeff Lin, co-founder, Smart Factory
Writer: Anna Pratt 






New microgrants program aims to "Make It Happen"

A new microgrants initiative will spur ideas within the Jewish community, locally and internationally. 

The Minneapolis Jewish Federation is a community partner to the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, which is leading the program called, Make It Happen

Debbie Stillman, director of community partnerships and engagement at the federation, says the initiative has already stirred “lots of buzz in the community.” Often, people have good ideas, but not the means to “step into the game and to say, ‘I want to try this out,’” she says. 

That’s what the program is all about: “This isn’t aimed at organizations or meant to augment somebody’s operating budget. It’s meant for individuals to enter the game with an idea that they think is worthwhile,” she says, adding that young leaders can get involved in the decision-making process, as well. 

Projects might relate to cultural, educational, spiritual, or social aspects of Jewish life. For example, pop-up trucks, musical mash-ups, Shabbat dinners, and service projects are just a handful of the possibilities, according to program materials. “Selected projects will identify creative means of engaging, serving, and leading local Jewish communities,” a prepared statement reads.  

Schusterman will award $1,000 and $5,000 microgrants to 50 projects, which it will select on a rolling basis between now and December. At the same time, the Minneapolis Jewish Federation will separately dole out additional microgrants through the spring.   

Around 10 to 15 projects will be granted locally, depending on the scope of individual projects, Stillman says. 

Projects will be uploaded onto the website, which will double as a kind of idea share. “There are a lot of pluses to the platform as well as the microgrants themselves,” she says. "Organizations can look in their own communities and across the globe and if they see an interesting idea, they can execute it. They can see how it might work or how they can change it."  

  
Source: Debbie Stillman, director of community partnerships and engagement, Minneapolis Jewish Federation
Writer: Anna Pratt 







"Creative Care" exhibition and events underscore art's healing power

The Twin Cities is home to a diverse arts and healing community – perhaps the largest nationwide, according to Jack Becker, who leads Forecast Public Art, a nonprofit public art consulting agency based in Saint Paul.

The Twin Cities, Becker adds, is “an arts-rich community, and we’re huge for healthcare and technologies devoted to medicine and bioscience and research into healing. These realms come together in a variety of ways.” 

Those intersections are the subject of an exhibit Forecast put together in collaboration with Hennepin County’s Multicultural Arts Committee. Titled "Creative Care: Art + Healing in the Twin Cities," the exhibition is at the Hennepin County Government Center’s gallery in downtown Minneapolis through Jan. 29.

The exhibition pulls together visuals from nine arts-healing organizations in the area. In addition, an opening celebration today, and related forums and performances, are in the works for the coming weeks. 

The exhibiton is “about the idea that art can have healing benefits,” Becker says, a notion that often goes unacknowledged in daily life.
 
As a part of the kickoff for "Creative Care," which begins at 11 a.m., representatives from the exhibiting organizations will be on hand. Some groups, including Illusion Theater, Hopewell Community Choir, and Wilder Band will also perform at the event while county commissioner Peter McLaughlin will make an appearance and T. Mychael Rambo will serve as its emcee. 

The show represents all different approaches to art and healing, from Hennepin County Medical Center’s Inspire Arts program to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Healing Arts Therapies.  

As such, the displays are just as diverse as the participants. People can meander through a labyrinth on the floor -- a meditative intentional walk on a path that leads to peaceful calm in the center-- or view snapshots, paintings, installations, and more.  

For those who are sick or depressed or are facing other challenges, art can “focus the mind for a period of time on something other than the problem, the ailment, the pain,” Becker says, and art does so in a holistic way. He adds that art can come in the form of a relaxing piece of music or a public memorial in a war-torn community, as just a couple of examples.  

Forecast also published a related directory that includes 40 local art-healing programs in order to “raise awareness and increase access to these programs,” he says. 

Source: Jack Becker, executive director, Forecast Public Art 
Writer: Anna Pratt 








TreeHouse "innovation center" opens in Loring Park

TreeHouse Health, an “innovation center” with an emphasis on healthcare IT and care coordination, opened its doors on Oct. 17. 

The idea behind the for-profit “innovation center,” based in Minneapolis's Loring Park neighborhood, is to help emerging, and larger more established healthcare companies, grow and solve industry issues, the TreeHouse website states. 

TreeHouse is in a position to do so, thanks to its six partners with extensive expertise in healthcare and investment. 

Jeffrey (J.D.) Blank, the company’s managing director, says TreeHouse can offer networking opportunities, office space, cash for startups, and other resources. Blank’s dad is Dr. John Blank, TreeHouse’s chairman of the board, who is also the president of Dalmore Investments, an angel fund in Minneapolis. “We offer access to customers, make introductions, allow them to leverage the relationships of our partners,” says J.D. Blank.      

Collaboration is key, he says. "We view an 'innovation center' as an ecosystem, an environment that supports entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, the innovators within a larger organization.” 

“We’re hoping to get small and large companies from every sector of healthcare,” all of which bring different views to solve healthcare issues, he says. “The industry is so broad and complicated that we think having every angle represented, creating a 360-degree ecosystem will help parties navigate the challenges.” 

Creating that ecosystem means “getting the right companies with the right mindset, that are willing to collaborate and contribute to the ecosystem at large,” he adds. 

As such, TreeHouse intends to cultivate a network of service providers and business professionals that can offer support to companies. TreeHouse intends to bring companies into the fold for six months to two years. “We think companies will see the value in it,” he says. 

Already, TreeHouse has signed on RiverSystems LLC, a startup that developed HomeStream, “a tool comprised of easy-to-use, computer-assisted capabilities designed to improve the quality of life for seniors and aging baby boomers,” a prepared statement reads. 
 

Source: Jeffrey (J.D.) Blank, managing director, TreeHouse Health 
Writer: Anna Pratt 






Open Systems Technologies boosts growth and hiring

When a large company opens a regional office, sometimes it becomes a remote outpost, with a small staff and limited growth. But sometimes, it turns into an example of how a new office can thrive where it's planted.
 
Open Systems Technologies (OST)--which is a sponsor of The Line--definitely falls into the latter category, growing from three employees when it opened in 2010 to 20 employees today. David Gerrity, Executive Director of OST's Minneapolis office, says the company brings on a new hire every couple months, and he anticipates a steady pace for that growth in the future.
 
Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, OST employs 120 direct employees and 70 full-time contractors, and focuses on business process solutions, data center services, application development, and other IT tasks.
 
The Minneapolis office is nestled inside the historic TractorWorks building in the North Loop, where technology professionals serve clients like Target, United Health Group, and Thomson Reuters.
 
"We anticipate about 35 percent annual growth," says Gerrity. "While we grow, we want to do so in a way that honors and maintains the culture we have. We put a great deal of emphasis on employee retention, and we think that makes a major difference."
 
Although hiring is done constantly, the process is also thorough, Gerrity adds. At OST, they want that professional to stay around for a long time — something of a rarity in the technology arena, where job-hopping is common. But focusing so heavily on employee retention allows OST to gain more credibility with clients, Gerrity believes.
 
Drawing good employees is easier with the office's location, he adds. "Minneapolis-St. Paul is the biggest small town in the country, it has a great culture," he says. "That makes for a very good match between the cities and the company."
 
Source: David Gerrity, OST
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Minnesota Blogger Conference gains momentum

Even though bloggers are constantly connecting with readers and each other, it can still feel like a lonely task to send thoughts out into the world and wonder if anyone is reading them.
 
That's one of the reasons that the Minnesota Blogger Conference, started four years ago, is gaining prominence among the state's busy bloggers. Held on October 12th this year, the conference is a new venue, at Concordia University, and co-founder Arik Hanson says that the change in location should help to draw more interest from students.
 
Also, this year's lineup is particularly solid, Hanson adds. "It's a very diverse range of individuals, and we're excited about it," he says. "It's such a great chance for us to all learn from each other."
 
In addition to schmoozing with other bloggers, attendees will able to learn about optimizing content for mobile devices, using WordPress, tapping into Google Analytics tools, and making the most of Tumblr.
 
An ending keynote on the future of blogging will veer away from the technology of blogging and into the cultural and social implications of this unique form of writing. Weber Shandwick digital strategist Greg Swan will join MinnPost media writer David Brauer, TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Oden, and Fluence Media principal Blois Olson to chat about what blogging could look like in the years ahead.
 
The conference, in general, is a nod toward the broad blogger community in the Twin Cities, and it's no surprise that it's a growing scene here. Technology and culture are both rich local sources of innovation and creativity, and blogging is at the intersection of those two distinctive arenas.
 
"This is one of those grassroots conferences that let you geek out for a day," Hanson says. "People won't look at you sideways when you talk about plug-ins."
 
Source: Arik Hanson, Minnesota Blogger Conference
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Startup firm The Everyday Table aims to become local nutrition resource

As local food and sustainable farming gains even more momentum in the Twin Cities, entrepreneurial efforts are cropping up to help people navigate this new landscape.
 
One of the most intriguing is The Everyday Table, recently launched by dietitian Sara Bloms and local chef Polly Pierce. The pair started the venture as a way to help those in the metro area not only learn cooking skills, but also gain knowledge about nutrition, food shopping, and menu planning.
 
"The [impetus] behind The Everyday Table was frustration, with the constant reminder of the obesity statistics and the impact it has on rising healthcare costs, the rotation of fad diets claiming to be the magic formula to weight loss, and the plethora of processed foods that fill the grocery store shelves," says Bloms.
 
She adds that information has become a detriment rather than an advantage — so much info is available online in the form of recipes, websites, company newsletters, blogs, and other media that people often feel overwhelmed.
 
The Everyday Table aims to provide tools and resources in an interactive and engaging way that takes relevant information and puts it into action. For example, Bloms will meet clients at a grocery store and guide them though decisions, and Pierce can go to client homes and teach them how to cook in their own kitchens.
 
The Twin Cities, in particular, is well suited for the entrepreneurial effort since the area has become a hub for local food, as demonstrated by more farmers markets and an innovative restaurant scene. Also, Bloms believes that the large number of young professionals here is driving a change.
 
"This generation understands the benefits of using fresh ingredients and cooking at home but wants to learn how to create a meal plan that fits their lifestyle, not their mother's," she says. "They are also the ones that can benefit the most from sustainable, long-term, healthy eating habits."
 
Source: Sara Bloms, The Everyday Table
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
 

Minnesota Cup announces 2013 winner

Crossing the finish line in the heated Minnesota Cup entrepreneurial competition is Preceptis Medical, a device manufacturer that's developing surgical tools for pediatric patients.
 
The company bested almost 1,100 competitors to nab the $40,000 grand prize, as well as $25,000 as the Life Science/Health IT division winner.
 
What got the judges' attention for Preceptis was the company's focus on the development of surgical innovations that would allow ear tube procedures to be performed with reduced pain and surgical time for children. Any parent who's watched a child suffer through multiple ear infections is likely to laud the kind of relief that Preceptis promises. Ear tube surgery is the most common pediatric surgery in the United States.
 
Now in clinical evaluation, the ear tube device and procedure have been tested on 60 patients, and Preceptis CEO Steve Anderson notes that it reduces trauma and risk, and offers greater efficiency for the surgeon.
 
"This year has been exhilarating," says Minnesota Cup co-founder Scott Litman. "We've had the best collection of presentations in our history, including the one from this year's winner, Preceptis Medical."
 
He added that 2014 will be the competition's 10th anniversary, and the competition's leadership is already brainstorming ways to grow the contest and involve more Minnesotans. Litman says, "We will discover and help more entrepreneurs to build better business plans and achieve long-lasting success. And of course, our ultimate goal is to cement the Minnesota Cup as a permanent part of the business landscape."
 
Source: Scott Litman, Minnesota Cup
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

MHTA unveils new innovation series

Minnesota will have yet another technology and business resource on Sept. 18th, when the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) and Minneapolis-based awareness firm Innovosource partner to provide a new monthly innovation series.
 
Dubbed "A Break for Breakthroughs," the series takes the form of free webinars for MHTA members, with the first event covering the latest breakthroughs in flexible electronics, from films and displays to touch sensor integration.

To kick off the series, the first webinar will be shown both online and at CoCo Minneapolis in the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. Speakers have just been announced, and Innovosource's founder will moderate.
 
According to Andrew Wittenborg, MHTA's director of outreach, upcoming sessions will cover emerging areas that affect Minnesota's technology landscape most directly. For example, wearable devices and robotics are booming here, so they'll get coverage, as will nanotech, biotech, and stem cells.  Advancements in image processing and analysis are also slated to be discussed.
 
"We are particularly excited by this new partnership because it represents a key aspect of MHTA's mission to fuel Minnesota's prosperity through innovation and technology," Wittenborg notes.
 
He adds that the mission of the series is to help business leaders, R&D teams, investors, entrepreneurs, and others to learn more about emerging technologies and to build stronger relationships among the top players locally. "We will provide a greater level of awareness beyond the widely accessible information already available," says Wittenborg.
 
MHTA will also provide programming for Innovosource's Pardon the Disruption program, which connects high technology companies and investors to research universities and laboratories.
 
Source: Andrew Wittenborg, MHTA
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Minnesota Cup announces finalist round

The entrepreneurs vying for the grand prize in the heated competition for the Minnesota Cup just passed one more milestone, as 18 finalists were announced in preparation for the Sept. 11th award ceremony.
 
Now in its ninth year, the Minnesota Cup will award $40,000 to a grand prize winner who displays the most innovative idea in the state. The top three ideas in each of the six divisions (energy/clean tech, general, high tech, life science/health IT, social entrepreneur, and student) will advance to the finalist round, and compete for a share of prize money.
 
Finalists range in terms of innovation, and include aquaponics company Garden Fresh Farms, teacher-centered tech tool Kidblog, and medical device firm RxFunction. A list of finalists can be found here.
 
The competition is designed to bring out the best and brightest minds in Minnesota, and to help budding entrepreneurs to make connections within the business community.
 
Co-founder Scott Litman notes that the competition grows tremendously every year, and this spring, almost 1,100 people entered. More than 8,000 Minnesotans have participated in the Minnesota Cup since the competition began in 2005.
 
"We're proud to point to our successes, including last year's Grand Prize winner, PreciouStatus, which has raised more than $1.5 million in capital to date," Litman says, adding that other finalists have gone on to raise more than $60 million in capital, to support the development of their ideas, create jobs, and broker numerous business partnerships, collaborations, and distribution agreements.
 
Source: Scott Litman, Minnesota Cup
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

University of Minnesota launches record number of startups for 2013

The University of Minnesota is proving to be particularly adept at turning research into commercial efforts, and this year, it will set a record for the number of startup companies it's launched.
 
In the university's 2013 fiscal year, 14 startup companies were given a boost into the marketplace through efforts by the Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC). That's up from 12 last year, and it's likely that the momentum will continue into the next fiscal year. Already, five startups are on track to launch in the first few months of 2014 and another 19 technologies are in various stages of startup activity.
 
"Our continued success as a research institution depends upon our ability to transfer knowledge created at the university into the real world, where it can have a  direct impact on our society," notes Brian Herman, the University of Minnesota's Vice President for Research. He adds that the team at the OTC is doing an especially impressive job given the challenging economic climate of the past few years.
 
The OTC has been aided by the formation of a Venture Center, first opened in 2006. Since then, 52 startup companies have been created, and nearly 80 percent of those are still active. That success rate is notable, Herman points out, since a study done by Harvard Business School showed that 75 percent of all startups fail.
 
Also worth noting is the breadth of startups coming out of the university. In 2013, the range of products included a plastic bead that cuts off the blood supply to tumors, a smartphone-based breathalyzer, a handheld probe that can measure tension in soft tissues during orthopedic surgery, and a genetic test that assesses certain risks in dogs.
 
So, investors take note: when looking for the next big startup, it might be time to go back to school.
 
Source: Brian Herman, University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Byte Technology moves HQ from California to Bloomington

Web design firm Byte Technology recently made a major shift when it moved its national headquarters from Monterey, Calif., to Bloomington.
 
CEO and founder Terry Low notes that he and his wife had been visiting family in Minnesota over the past few years, and he began to see the opportunities here. "I started to see how the state is different, in terms of the business climate," he says. "There's so much here, from the standard of living to the availability of great employees. It opened my eyes."
 
The company will continue to operate a branch in Monterey as well as Denver, but Low looks forward to building up the new HQ locally. In particular, he anticipates bringing his blend of business savvy and social good to the Twin Cities area.
 
"I love being able to give back to the community, and that's something I hope to instill in all of my employees," he says.
 
Founded in 2001, Byte's clients have included Comcast, Colgate-Palmolive, AT&T, and other significant companies. Low anticipates that the company will make an impact here with Byte's distinctive web experience services, and hiring is currently underway.
 
"The web industry is moving at a breakneck speed, and we're keeping our goals high so that we can stay ahead," Low says.
 
Source: Terry Low, Byte Technology
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Online work platform Field Nation expands into Europe

With continued expansion, Field Nation may have to consider changing its name someday to Field World. The Minneapolis-based firm, which provides an online work platform that connects businesses and independent contractors, is growing fast, leading to a recent expansion into Europe.
 
"There has been such demand from customers to use our platform in other areas than the U.S. and Canada," says CEO Mynul Khan. "We've been asked to expand into Latin America, parts of Asia, and Western Europe, so really, we just chose a starting point for more international services, but we expect to keep expanding geographically."
 
Launched in 2008, Field Nation employs 45 but has a contractor database of about 40,000. Although the company did aggressive recruitment in its early years, the momentum is now so strong that hundreds of new companies and contractors sign up every day through word of mouth, Khan says.
 
The company offers a marketplace where professionals can meet, but also provides a management system with distinctive features and tools that allow customers to create work orders, arrange payment, and keep track of documentation.
 
In addition to broadening its planetary footprint, Field Nation is also growing vertically, Khan says, by adding more skillsets into the mix. Currently, the company tends to lean toward IT services, but Khan believes that Field Nation's platform and work management automation can extend to any industry that hires independent contractors, including construction, creative work, and telecom.
 
"Every day is exciting here," he says. "We're always thinking about the next big thing and making new milestones."
 
Source: Mynul Khan, Field Nation
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
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