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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

HighJump Software picks Danish firm for acquisition

Minneapolis-based HighJump Software employees may want to take an accelerated course in Danish so they can visit the company's newest offices.
 
The supply chain management software provider recently announced that it acquired Evenex, a provider of business-to-business integration solutions. Located in Denmark, Evenex allows customers to exchange business documents through managed cloud services. HighJump Software, with its emphasis on efficient supply chain capabilities, will give the Danish firm greater market reach.
 
In other words, as they'd say in Denmark, it's a "gode tilbud" (good deal) for both companies.
 
HighJump Software CEO Russell Fleischer notes that the acquisition is important for expanding the company's reach in Europe, and hints that the Evenex deal could be the kickoff for more acquisitions in the future.
 
"It's an important first step towards broadening our geographic coverage in Europe," he says. "We look forward to driving organic growth as well as continued to look for logical merger and acquisition opportunities."
 
The deal will give the Danish firm access to capital that will help foster growth.
 
The acquisition comes during a strong year for HighJump, which has been busy enhancing its products for SMB customers, attracting large clients with refined software offerings, and cementing new partnerships.
 
Fleischer notes that all of these moves are enabling customers to have technologies that work for their specific business needs and processes. With the year only half over, it's likely that HighJump will keep its expansion and development going strong for 2013.
 
Source: Russell Fleischer, HighJump Software
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Kohnstamm Communications boasts growth, adds jobs

St. Paul-based public relations agency Kohnstamm Communications is fueling growth with the addition of four new hires, and it's likely that more team members will join the quartet in the future.
 
"Kohnstamm's revenue grew at more than 29 percent last year, making us one of the fastest growing [agencies] in the Midwest," says founder and CEO Josh Kohnstamm. "Yet, as a 22-year-old boutique agency with fewer than 20 people, each person must shoulder a lot of responsibility for turning results. And these are exactly the brand of PR people to succeed in that assignment."
 
Coming from Minneapolis-based Snow Communications is Jeff Trauring, who will join the business-to-business team at Kohnstamm, supporting agency accounts like 3M Food Safety, Nilan Johnson Lewis, and the University of St. Thomas.
 
Also on the B2B team with a crossover into consumer accounts will be Morgan Woodrow, who will assist with clients like Noosa Yoghurt, Fay Ranches, and MOM Brands. Two interns are part of the new hires as well.
 
In addition to staff additions, the agency has also announced new client relationships, such as Noosa, which joins the agency's roster of food and beverage industry clients. Kohnstamm represents Dr. Praeger's Sensible Foods, the Soyfoods Association, Way Better Snacks, Thai Kitchen, and others in the industry.
 
"Our agency is representing the very fastest-growing and innovative food companies in the industry today, and it is very exciting for us," Kohnstamm says.
 
The agency's robust growth is likely to continue for the future, particularly with these strategic hires and new clients, Kohnstamm believes.
 
Source: Josh Kohnstamm, Kohnstamm Communications
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
 

Coworking space CoCo to open Uptown location

Major coworking and collaborative space CoCo recently announced plans to open a third location in Uptown, joining the organization's popular Lowertown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis spaces.
 
Slated to open this fall at the intersection of West Lake St. and Lagoon Ave., the new location will be in the heart of Uptown and just yards from the Greenway bike route. Plans include a 15,000-square-foot space that will be rich with features and amenities, according to CoCo co-founder Don Ball.
 
Most notably, the space will offer a tap room with craft beers, a movie theater for presentations, a billiard room, and a walkout patio. For those who want to balance work with play, the space will feature two large conference rooms and several private "call booths."
 
Similar to the organization's location in the Grain Exchange, the new space will offer a large commons area where members can do presentations for up to 100 people, build product prototypes, or network with new ideas. Another open space, dubbed "The Garage," is a 3,500-square-foot area designed for groups that want to do deep work in strategic planning, Ball notes.
 
There will also be an abundance of coworking seats, as well as "campsites" where members can claim a dedicated desk for individuals or for small groups.

The move is likely to create more growth and buzz for CoCo, which scored a major win this year when it teamed up with Google (see The Line's coverage here) for an ongoing partnership and event series. 

"Membership has been exploding, especially since we launched our partnership earlier this year with Google," says Ball. "So we knew we'd have to expand, not only to create more space, but also to give members more options for where they can drop in and work. Uptown is a great location not only because of its demographics skew younger, but its proximity to so many great neighborhoods, the Greenway, and highways."
 
Source: Don Ball, CoCo
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Stratasys makes major acquisition, plans to add jobs

The 3-D printing industry may still be cutting edge and futuristic for most of the marketplace, but a recent acquisition by Eden Prairie-based Stratasys shows that the technology is gaining momentum, and the Minnesota company is leading the way.
 
The company reported recently that it just inked a deal to acquire competitor MakerBot, in a transaction worth about $403 million. If MakerBot reaches certain performance benchmarks, that amount could grow even more before Stratasys finalizes the deal.
 
The acquisition is an important one for the industry, and establishes Stratasys as a savvy, well-positioned company that could significantly extend its reach. Already, the firm produces 3D printers for commercial and industrial uses, and the inclusion of MakerBot technology could expand its production to smaller, more entry-level models that may be used by small businesses or even home users.
 
Industry analysts were quick to note that the combination of the two companies would drive faster adoption for 3D printers for multiple applications, and could bring the technology into the mainstream.
 
MakerBot will now operate as a separate subsidiary of Stratasys, continuing to maintain its own products and market strategy, and CEO Bre Pettis noted that the deal will continue a robust growth track.
 
"We have an aggressive model for growth, and partnering with Stratasys will allow us to supercharge our mission to empower individuals to make things," Pettis says. "It will allow us to bring 3D technology to more people."
 
In addition to the acquisition, Stratasys also announced it would add about 80 jobs by the end of the year.
 
Source: Bre Pettis, MakerBot
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Maverick Software Consulting recognized for innovative business model

Minneapolis-based Maverick Software Consulting boasts a distinctive business model that's getting noticed by award presenters.
 
The company just received the Innovative Partnering and Collaboration Award from Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), as recognition for its efforts to link companies with entry-level IT staff sourced from colleges and universities.
 
Drawing on nearly 60 campuses across the Midwest, Maverick recruits, trains, and manages college students who work with companies that are experiencing a shortage of software development talent. The program also provides a supply of experienced IT professionals who've graduated from the program, and notes that Maverick "grads" typically find employment up to six months sooner than typical college graduates.
 
Started in 2006, the company's growth has been impressive, expanding from an initial staff of 10 student employees on one college campus to 130 employees on 25 campuses. Martin Hebig, the company's founder and president, notes that of the 325 students who've worked for Maverick, all have gone on to full-time employment at companies like Microsoft, Facebook, IBM, and Symantec.
 
He adds that receiving the MnSCU recognition is an honor, and made possible through academic and corporate partners that keep the program growing strong.
 
Hebig believes that the technology field in Minnesota will continue to heat up when it comes to hiring and retaining IT talent. "This is the year of the computer geek, nerd, tech diva, and so on," he says. "There are so many great things going on in the state right now to support this strong growth trend, and a lot of efforts to keep high-paying IT jobs in the state."
 
Source: Martin Hebig, Maverick Software Consulting
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Minnesota Cup selects semifinalists for innovative business idea prize

The summer may be off to a sluggish start weather-wise, but at the Minnesota Cup, the heat of competition just got kicked up a notch.
 
The annual contest, which supports the development of breakthrough ideas from across the state, just announced the start of its semifinal round, with 57 teams of entrepreneurs and inventors ready for the next stage.
 
Now in its ninth year, the Minnesota Cup offers six categories of innovation: energy/clean tech, general, high tech, life science/health IT, social entrepreneur, and student. Competitors are able to enter individually or as a four-person team.
 
The semifinal round will give those innovators a chance to buff up their ideas through exposure to mentors and business leaders, who will act as advisors for the next round. The teams and individuals will also have the opportunity to meet members of the Cup's review board.
 
A full list of this year’s semifinalists is available on the Cup’s site, and includes companies like Rowbot Systems, Windjuicer, Foodsby, Kidblog, Mode-sty, and Cinch Chix.
 
The competition is designed to bring out the best and brightest minds in Minnesota, and help those individuals to make connections that can advance innovation in the state, according to Minnesota Cup co-founder Scott Litman. He says, "The 2013 competition is no exception. We're excited to see how the many strong applicants in this year's pool will progress with mentoring and business planning this summer."
 
Three finalists from each division will be chosen on August 19th, and will be expected to present their business plans for a chance to nab the top prize, which will be awarded on September 11th.
 
Source: Scott Litman, Minnesota Cup
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
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