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Sport Ngin receives major investment, anticipates growth

Minneapolis-based Sport Ngin just received a major funding infusion that will boost the company's already impressive growth even more. The sports software provider recently closed a $6 million financing round with El Dorado Ventures, a venture capital firm with offices in Minnetonka and Silicon Valley. That brings their overall funding total to $10 million since the company's founding in 2008.
 
Sport Ngin began as TST Media, a design and creative agency started by Justin Kaufenberg and Carson Kipfer while both attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. "Originally, it was just to make a little extra beer money," Kipfer says, with a laugh. "But by the time we were finishing school, we could see the potential for much more."
 
Looking for a niche, and drawing on their experience playing sports through high school and college, the pair focused on developing software for sports organizations, first for hockey and then for many other sports.
 
The software they developed allows teams to manage players, post schedules, and track stats, as well as offer online registration. A tournament package offers tools that let users run everything from a Little League event to a professional playoff.
 
Currently hiring for a number of positions, Sport Ngin sees more growth ahead, both in employee numbers and in products. The company's revenue has increased 100 percent year after year for the past four fiscal years, and aggressive hiring has increased staff numbers to 120.
 
"This current investment underscores our progress, hard work, and many successes to date, and validates the widespread adoption of Sport Ngin by thousands of sports organizations," says Kaufenberg. "This capital infusion will enable us to further grow our market presence, and to expand and enhance the functionality of Sport Ngin."
 
Sources: Carson Kipfer and Justin Kaufenberg, Sport Ngin
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Minnesota Cup readies for 9th round of innovative ideas

Now entering its 9th year, the Minnesota Cup is distinctive for its array of innovative ideas and entrepreneurship, attracting startup founders and inventors to showcase their best insights for the chance to win $200,000. This year's kickoff came on March 25th, with ideas accepted until May 17th, and organizers are gearing up for another year of robust competition.
 
"Just like every year, we're excited about what's ahead," says Scott Litman, Minnesota Cup co-founder. "This has become such a great way to inspire and support the state's early-stage entrepreneurs, and it's become a cornerstone for the entrepreneur ecosystem here."
 
The competition features six divisions: Energy/Clean Tech, General, High Tech, Life Science/Health IT, Social Entrepreneur, and Student. Those who advance to higher rounds get the opportunity to present their business ideas, get paired with mentors, and network with potential investors.
 
Since the competition began n 2005, over 7,000 Minnesotans have participated. Finalists from just the past four years have gone on to raise more than $60 million in capital. Last year's Grand Prize winner, PreciouStatus, has raised over $1.5 million since its win.
 
Although every division is chock full of entrants, Litman notes that there are some trends from year to year. "It's fascinating to find a big surge of quality and ideas in certain areas," he says. High Tech tends to be a busy division, he says, but in teh past few years, Health IT has been growing steadily.
 
Participation is fairly consistent, though, with about 1,000 participants every year. Those who make it to the semifinal round in June will be paired with mentors, with finalists from every division chosen in August.
 
Source: Scott Litman, Minnesota Cup
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

The Foundation offers IT for the creative industry

In Internet years, The Foundation is practically an institution by now.
 
Founded in 1999, the Minneapolis-based company began as a managed IT firm for printers, graphic designers, and architects, and even after 14 years, the focus still remains on creative professionals. In the past decade, the company has blended in other services like project implementation and remote network monitoring, but its laser focus on one industry has made The Foundation a go-to IT resource for creatives.
 
"The difficulty in that particular industry is that they're increasingly reliant on technology, but many of them don't have time to learn about the technical side," says Matt Woestehoff, Director of Business Development and Operations at The Foundation. "We help them get back to work quickly when a problem comes up."
 
The company's 14 employees tend to come from creative fields--Woestehoff jokes that he's a "failed designer"--and are passionate about supporting the creative community. In addition to getting clients back on track, The Foundation has also seen an uptick in implementation requests. For example, a creative agency might want to deploy 1,000 iPads in retail stores and set up a dedicated help desk for the effort. Not only can The Foundation take on that task easily, but it can also set up relevant apps and handle technology updates.
 
Mobile technology efforts like that are driving big growth at the company, which looks forward to adding at least five people to its employee roster over the next year. But even if the firm didn't get a major boost from mobile, there would still be contentment with its founding mission, Woestehoff believes: "We have a purpose, and we can see how our work affects the bigger creative community."
 
Source: Matt Woestehoff, The Foundation
Writer: Elizabeth Millard 

Mayo Clinic opens a business accelerator

Rochester is ready to see a fresh burst of startup activity, thanks to a new business accelerator put together by the Mayo Clinic and the Rochester Area Economic Development Initiative.
 
The Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator at the Minnesota BioBusiness Center features space that can be leased by entrepreneurs, startup companies, venture capitalists and professional service provider. According to Dr. John Noseworthy, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, the accelerator was put together to spark the growth of healthcare-related businesses in the area.
 
"The accelerator is an example of the strength of a strong partnership between Mayo Clinic and the community, to make it easier and more affordable for companies to start and locate in Rochester," Dr. Noseworthy says.
 
There are seven founding tenants, including Versant Ventures, a venture capital firm that specializes in investments in medical devices and biopharmaceuticals, and Evidentia Health, an IT company focusing on healthcare clients. Other tenants include Resoundant, Zumbro Discovery, and VitalHealth Software.
 
Mayo Clinic aims to provide a nurturing space so that companies can avoid the type of startup roadblocks that might hinder growth.
 
Dr. Noseworthy added that the accelerator fits in well with Destination Medical Center, a $5 billion economic development initiative that is projected to create up to 45,000 new jobs in Rochester and other parts of the state.
 
Startup companies are willing to locate in Rochester, Dr. Noseworthy notes, but they need to infrastructure to stay in the city. "Without that, they are vulnerable to leaving not only Rochester, but the state of Minnesota."
 
Source: John Noseworthy, Mayo Clinic
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

U. of M. debuts entrepreneurial leave program for faculty

A new program at the University of Minnesota could boost the number of startup companies and innovative products in the state, with faculty putting a whole new spin on "office hours."
 
The Entrepreneurial Leave Program will facilitate temporary leave for faculty inventors who want to assist an external organization in commercializing a product or service that might use university-derived intellectual property.  
 
The university decided on the step because as a land-grant institution, the school wants to stay connected to the local business community, notes Russ Straate, in the Office for Technology Commercialization at the University of Minnesota. That connection is strengthened when technology makes it out of the university and into the marketplace, a transition in which faculty usually plays a key role.
 
"We put this together to help faculty translate their work into the commercial sector," says Straate. "It gives them permission and time to explore."
 
Most importantly, the program also gives them benefits. In the past, faculty were granted leaves of absence to pursue projects, but had to give up their health insurance and other plum university benefits. That left many putting their projects on a back burner instead of pursuing commercialization.
 
"It's important for faculty to continue to grow and learn, that's what sabbaticals are about," Straate says. "When doing a leave of absence, though, you shouldn't be negatively impacting your family and yourself."
 
The program will be officially in place in July, but Straate notes that there's already buzz among faculty members who've wanted to take their research and development to the next level.
 
Source: Russ Straate, University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

True Talent boosts growth with virtual office approach

Considering the economic storm that creative placement agency True Talent Group survived in its first few years, the sunny skies ahead are more than welcome.
 
Started in 2008 by entrepreneur Stacey Stratton, the company began during a dismal time for startups, she believes, but she took a chance anyway. She established a basement office, did sales recruiting, and took only a year to bring on three employees (see previous coverage in The Line about her start-up track).
 
Over the past year, Stratton has found even stronger footing, and she notes that the agency is on track for double-digit growth again in 2013. In addition to business revenue growth, True Talent Group has added to their team by hiring staff to help with recruiting and client retention, and the company is now a robust enterprise. What it lacks, however, are actual offices.
 
The accounting, marketing, legal, and advisory teams consist of individuals and organizations outside the corporate entity of True Talent Group, and Stratton believes that the model demonstrates the strength of a virtual office strategy.
 
"While we focus exclusively on marketing, interactive, and the creative industry, we think it would be disingenuous for us to build capacity in the categories of legal, accounting, and especially marketing," she says. "We rely on experts with perspective and savvy to deliver for us, just like our clients expect our talented team to deliver for them."
 
She adds that they company's impressive 90-percent referral rate is keeping the company on track, and it's more than likely that True Talent will keep going strong.
 
Source: Stacey Stratton, True Talent Group
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Startup YELLaround envisions more hyperlocal communication

It seems that every college campus and coffee shop is awash in flyers, with announcements about bands, parties, and for-sale items. But what if all that information could be disseminated digitally, creating a robust and hyperlocal connection?
 
That's the premise behind YELLaround, a startup created in 2011 when friends Kyle Case and Trong Dong came to the Twin Cities after graduating from Iowa State University. The pair were struck by the number of activities locally, but still struggled with feeling connected to the city, and realized that much of their information about events came from flyers and newspaper ads.
 
"We thought that there must be a way to feel engaged with the people around you in a better way," says Case. "We envisioned an app that would connect you to a community quickly."
 
They started YELLaround to build the app, and just released the first iteration to the App Store on iTunes in January. Although it's early in the sales cycle to get an idea of popularity, Case is feeling confident that it'll catch on, based on the positive reaction of the first wave of users. The app works by broadcasting a message over a 20-mile radius, making it ideal for local events, and users can expand the range with a feature called "echo."
 
To extend the app's reach, Case and Dong are focusing on event organizers, but they see a broader future ahead. Case says, "We want it to be a local communication venture, where you can connect with people around you without having to use formal systems like Facebook. You can see why traffic is backed up, or find people to start a band. It's an open platform to connect."
 
Source: Kyle Case, YELLaround
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Tech firm thedatabank releases social media tool for nonprofits

Minneapolis-based thedatabank focuses on helping nonprofit organizations with software that makes operations more streamlined, and its latest offering fits right in with its product lineup.
 
Called SocialCRM, the tool includes capability for social media tracking so that nonprofits can use  information effectively. A user can rank Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends based on a customizable system. With that scoring, a nonprofit can build relationships with social influencers, or even provide targeted messaging to certain members.
 
Also with SocialCRM, a nonprofit can manage its own social media accounts from a single dashboard. This is particularly valuable when nonprofits have to juggle multiple profiles on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites, and keep on top of all social media activity. SocialCRM funnels every post and tweet into a central dashboard that allows for better management and scheduling.
 
The software provides much-needed organization for nonprofit social media efforts, believes Chris Hanson, CEO and co-founder of thedatabank: "Every nonprofit we talk to is doing something with social media, yet very few of them have the information or tools they need to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity to raise money and increase support through social media."
 
Hanson adds that SocialCRM was developed when the company heard stories from its nonprofit customers about the difficulties of bridging the divide between a social media list and a database. The tool was developed to help nonprofits get a "full 360-degree view" of their members. "This is a game changer," he says.
 
Source: Chris Hanson, thedatabank
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

BREAKING NEWS: Google and CoCo partner for an extensive event series

Silicon Valley and Silicon Prairie are ready to meet.
 
On Wednesday, February 20, coworking and collaborative space CoCo hosted a major kickoff with new partner Google for Entrepreneurs, announcing a two-year schedule of events, conferences, and social mixers at CoCo's Minneapolis office.
 
Focusing on technology and startups, the events are aimed at boosting entrepreneurship in the state, and draw on Google's extensive history of innovation and development. The company's Google for Entrepreneurs initiative was created to support entrepreneurs worldwide, and boasts an array of successful programs already, including Campus London, Women on the Web, and The New Orleans Community Leaders Program. The company even provides guidance and training for child entrepreneurs with Lemonade Day, a nonprofit that teaches children how to start and operate their own businesses.
 
John Lyman, Entrepreneurship Manager at Google, remarked in a release that the company believes entrepreneurship drives innovation and economic growth. "We see that happening in Minnesota and particularly at CoCo," he noted.
 
An announcement about the local partnership was made during an all-day conference at CoCo that began with U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak talking about innovation and entrepreneurship. The jam-packed event was free, but filled up quickly, as tech leaders and aspiring business owners jockeyed for a spot at one of the afternoon's sessions with visiting Google employees.
 
A full 2013 event schedule is still being finalized, and will be released soon, but CoCo did give a glimpse of what's to come. The event series will include affinity and user groups, including Google Developers Group Twin Cities, Android Users Group of Minnesota, and House of Cards, as well as one-day and multi-day conferences. Social and networking events will also play a large role in the partnership, with a particular focus on connecting startup founders with mentors.
 
Also slated are classes and educational sessions, including online-only instruction geared toward appealing to entrepreneurs across Minnesota who may be far flung from CoCo's office space.
 
The event series will rely on Google technology, including Google+ Hangouts, a video conferencing app that allows users to connect directly to multiple participants, or to broadcast an event through Google+, a YouTube channel, and a website. The app also lets users record the broadcast so that it can be shared later.
 
In a release, CoCo founding partner Kyle Coolbroth noted, "This partnership with Google will allow us to continue to expand our mission of creating a robust community of individuals pursuing the work of their dreams."

Writer: Elizabeth Millard
 
 
 

Cooperative-focused CHS unveils new online platform

Inver Grove Heights-based agribusiness company CHS is owned by farmers, ranchers, and cooperatives across the country, and now, all of those stakeholders will be able to connect even more effectively through a new online platform.
 
Dubbed the CHS Center for Cooperative Growth and launched in October, the platform gathers diverse viewpoints from the industry and academia, with the goal of making cooperatives more effective.
 
Jessica Lamker, CHS Director of Marketing and Organizational Development, notes that the project came together when the organization considered the needs of the next generation of agribusiness leaders.
 
"Many agricultural cooperatives were formed in the 1930s," she says. "What we're finding is that as time goes on, young people don't understand the value of having them, and why they're important."
 
The online tool will provide clarity about complex topics related to cooperatives. For example, the latest content includes insight about equity management, with four industry leaders offering videos and articles on the topic. A future topic will be how cooperative boards of directors can achieve more alignment with each other and with customers.
 
The reaction from users has been strong, Lamker notes. Not only are farmers and ranchers turning to the site to access research papers and garner advice, but also to connect with others.
 
For the future, Lamker expects that content will continue to be king, with tutorials and tools. "Having the opportunity to bring this to life has been exciting, and we look forward to seeing where it goes from here," she says.
 
Source: Jessica Lamker, CHS
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Curenci gains momentum with cause-related loyalty program

When Curenci co-founder Mike Brooks tries to describe the company, the first thing he mentions is Russian nesting dolls--those wooden tchotchkes that are split in the middle to accommodate smaller and smaller dolls tucked into one another.
 
"When people first see our company, they see a loyalty program, and get the impression that we're just a technology company," he says. "But if you keep going through the layers, you'll find there's more to us than that."
 
Started last year, the company calls itself "a loyalty program on steroids," and provides a link among merchants, consumers, and fundraising efforts. Retailers and other merchants sign up with Curenci, and when shoppers frequent those stores, they bring along their Curenci card. The merchant sends a rebate amount to a cause chosen by the consumer, as well as a certain amount to the consumer's card to be used like cash.
 
Merchants set the rebate amount. For example, Berry Blendz in Eden Prairie offers a 3.5 percent rebate amount, while Cloud 9 Carwash in the same city offers seven percent.
 
The company is finding some traction as it puts the program in place, and Brooks notes that they would like to have whole neighborhoods involved. Since Curenci can be used for any type of transaction, including EBT, car registration, and other tasks, Brooks believes that government agencies could benefit as well as vendors.
 
Currently, eight merchants have signed up, but now that the technology has been proven, Brooks says the momentum has begun. The tool represents the company's first application to market using its core payment and disbursement technology. Curenci's primary focus is on a patent-pending secure electronic settlement system for transactions and payments through ecommerce and mobile platforms.

"We're really getting things ramped up, and getting to market as quickly as we can," he notes.


 Source: Mike Brooks, Curenci
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Tech startup Miinome focuses on genome data

Much has been written about cracking the genome's code, but little is said about how this information will be used, particularly on an individual level. Will your genome data be public property, or will you be able to have a level of ownership over its contents? One Minneapolis-based startup prefers the latter.
 
Founded in March 2012 by entrepreneur Paul Saarinen and University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Genetics Scott Fahrenkrug, Miinome aims to be the largest member-owned genetic database and genetic data broker in the world. The name Miinome derives from a combination of 'genome' and a play on 'Wii' game controllers, creating a blend that indicates members will have control of their own unique genetic code.
 
"We believe in the concept of property rights, and genomic data right now isn't necessarily legally yours yet," says Saarinen. "We want to change that, to a model where you would have access to your genetic information, and the ability to choose what you do with it."
 
The company is in its early stages right now, but sparking quite a bit of interest with partnerships and investors. The pair has filed an initial patent around the idea with plans to release a beta version of their platform in the next six months. Until then, Saarinen is jetting around the country collecting advisors and raising capital.
 
"This is getting a little crazy in terms of traction, and we're just trying to keep up," he says. In other words, keep an eye on Miinome this year as it goes from stealth to boom.
 
Source: Paul Saarinen, Miinome
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

UnitedHealthcare creates contest for innovative health tech

UnitedHealthcare (UHC) is hoping that plenty of innovation-minded individuals will be ready to take on a new challenge, and perhaps win some prize money as a result.
 
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, the health benefit company announced the introduction of a "Breakthrough Health Tech Challenge," meant to spark creativity both within and outside of the health care industry.
 
Innovators can win a prize of $60,000 for an idea that utilizes common consumer technologies or devices to solve a healthcare challenge. For example, an innovator might propose a mobile app for preventing diabetes, or outline how an online game could reduce the risk of heart disease.
 
"We believe this groundbreaking challenge will inspire new ideas and concepts that could serve as breakthrough solutions to improving people's health and the healthcare system," says Gail Boudreaux, UnitedHealthcare CEO.
 
Boudreaux adds that since the competition is worldwide, the "crowdsourcing" technique should be even more potent. Details of the challenge are available here, and ideas are accepted until April 8th.
 
This isn't the first contest run by UHC for addressing technology and healthcare. The company has developed a series of innovation challenges since mid-2012, and Boudreaux notes that a number of unique ideas and concepts have resulted, with implementation on the horizon.
 
For the current contest, entrants must submit a written proposal and experimental proof-of-concept data or prototype. UHC offers a partial award of up to $20,000 if a proven solution doesn't exist yet, and there may be opportunities for collaboration between UHC and the innovator if the project sparks interest.
 
Source: Gail Boudreaux, UnitedHealthcare
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

January events: Collaborative Innovation, Healthy Life, Technically Speaking, Leadership Challenge

The Collaborative Innovation Series
January 10
Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey Institute
301 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis
7:45am - 10:25am
 
Maybe your resolution for 2013 is to put together a great board of directors. If that's the case, you're in luck: The Collaborative presents a morning of insight about how to create, develop, and effectively utilize a board.
 
Healthy Life Expo
January 12
Minneapolis Convention Center
10am - 5pm
$6 or free with donation to food shelf
 
This annual expo has been increasing in popularity every year, and this round offers up to 200 exhibitors, three stages of speaker presentations, product samples, free health advice, and plenty of information on wellness, nutrition, and fitness.
 
Technically Speaking: Leading with Emotional Intelligence
January 17
University of Minnesota
McNamara Alumni Center
5:30pm - 6:30pm
free, but must pre-register
 
The Technological Leadership Institute (TLI) at the U of M continues its new speaker series with this presentation about emotional intelligence, led by TLI's Kirk Froggatt. Geared toward leaders within organizations, the talk looks at the impact and practice of emotional intelligence as a way to boost leadership qualities.
 
Leadership Challenge Conference
January 24
St. Catherine University
Rauenhorst Ballroom
8am - 3:45pm
$225
 
The Leadership Challenge conference brings together professional women from a range of settings, including government, education, nonprofit, and small business sectors. Now in its 16th year, the event is a day of education and discussion focusing on leadership, with interactive workshops and networking opportunities. 

U of M to lead virtual institute focusing on climate issues

The University of Minnesota is slated to lead an international virtual institute for the study of Earth-surface systems. The multi-university effort will have a particular focus on watersheds and deltas, and is being called Linked Institutions for Future Earth (LIFE).
 
The effort is funded by the National Science Foundation, which is awarding the U of M a grant of $720,000 to kick off the collaborative network. In total, funding, grants, and resources from all participating universities come to roughly $30 million.
 
An ambitious project, the initiative will bring together numerous international research institutions and field sites, with the purpose of better understanding the impacts of climatic and human stresses on the environment.
 
LIFE intends to produce research that can affect policy decisions as well as future scientific directions. Initially, the project will also boost networking and information sharing among researchers. It's also likely to increase awareness about sustainability issues among the general public.
 
LIFE lead researcher Efi Foufoula-Georgiou notes that the effort will build on another NSF-funded project, the National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics, and with that foundation, the project will be able to take a significant step toward better understanding watersheds and deltas worldwide.
 
"LIFE seeks to empower the next generation of Earth-system scientists, engineers, and educators with depth, breadth, and a global perspective on environmental sustainability," she says.
 
All that global insight will start right here in Minneapolis, at the distinctive experimental facilities at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.
 
Source: Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, LIFE
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
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