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Coordination/Collaboration : Innovation + Job News

183 Coordination/Collaboration Articles | Page: | Show All

Office of Higher Ed debuts a Minnesota college planner app

High school students and others looking at postsecondary education will have a powerful new app, thanks to the state's Office of Higher Education (OHE).
 
The agency recently unveiled the Minnesota College Planner, a mobile application that can be downloaded for free. The tool provides students with resources for exploring college options and managing tasks associated with applying to college. OHE will be rolling out a new website soon to promote the app, and is already sending a lively video introduction to students.
 
Students can start planning as early as 8th grade, with reminders set for events like ACT testing and FAFSA form completion. Colleges and universities are sorted according to size, location, price, and majors. App users can browse profiles, set up campus visits, and stay updated on changes like tuition increases or new majors.
 
The app also lets students address financial aid issues as they search for schools, simplifying a process that has traditionally been "more challenging than a few quick swipes on a phone," says OHE Director Larry Pogemiller.
 
"The mobile site has been designed for students, giving them the ability to have some control and help with their own college planning," he says. "For example, the planner [tools] guide them as to what classes they should be taking in high school to meet the entrance guidelines for their dream career, which can help keep their goals realistic and focused."
 
He adds that the app was developed as a way to help more Minnesota students prepare for college in an increasingly technological society.
 
Source: Larry Pogemiller, Office of Higher Education
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Ag software MetaFarms poised for global expansion

As farming and ranching increasingly rely on technology for recordkeeping and trend data, Burnsville-based MetaFarms looks ahead to expansion. Within the next year, CEO Chad Becker anticipates that the ag software will translated into other languages, expanding the software's worldwide reach.
 
Founded in 2000, MetaFarms provides a web-based data platform for those involved in animal production. For example, someone who raises pigs can bring together information on animal growth rates, feed, transportation and other issues. That kind of data allows farmers to create reports that can track farm productivity and trends, information that's crucial for business effectiveness but can be lacking in more paper-based types of recordkeeping.
 
Becker, who grew up on a small dairy farm and remembers his family keeping records in a farm journal, has seen firsthand how technology is making farms and ranches more efficient. "Technology can be applied in different ways to help farmers track and organize all types of data," he says. "That helps them to do better when running their farms."
 
In the last three years, MetaFarms has seen steady growth after some challenging years in the ag market. They're adding to their 14-person staff, and diversifying their software to include other types of animals, such as turkeys and goats. Eventually, Becker says, the company hopes to connect into the whole food supply chain, bringing even richer data to customers.
 
Because farmers in other countries face the same issues as those in the United States, MegaFarms has seen strong interest internationally in its platform. Becker says, "I'm excited about leading MetaFarms in the company's next phase of growth and success."
 
Source: Chad Becker, MetaFarms
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

PatentBuddy sees growth ahead for its unique platform

Thanks to online resources, searching for patents is a snap, and local site PatentBuddy makes it even easier. The site offers patent search, analytics, inventor information, and other services, and as its popularity increases, it's likely that growth can't be far behind.
 
In June, the site will implement changes that turn the not-for-profit model into a revenue-generating powerhouse. Some features will still be free, especially for smaller law firms and individuals, but for Fortune 100 companies and large firms that maintain extensive patent portfolios through PatentBuddy's tools, a "modest fee" will be involved, says company president Leon Steinberg.
 
Considering how many users the site has, those modest fees could add up fast. The site as become the largest provider of patent analytics in the world, with over 250,000 monthly visitors.
 
PatentBuddy got its start in 2007, when patent attorneys Steve Lundberg and Janal Kalis, both shareholders at the Schwegman Lundberg firm in Minneapolis, rolled out the site as a way to increase access to patent information. They found that solo inventors had difficulty getting necessary patent data without relying on law firms for searches and analytics.
 
They built the site without a plan for revenue, but now that PatentBuddy has grown so robust, the fee structure will be put in place to spur further growth. Steinberg was brought on recently to help shepherd the changes.
 
"We have a large, well-structured database with just about every piece of patent information available, including foreign patents," he says. "That means we have unique reports and analytics, and we intend to keep being a resource with those for companies large and small."
 
Source: Leon Steinberg, PatentBuddy
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

CaringBridge founder plans run for Congress

CaringBridge founder and CEO Sona Mehring will be stepping away from the Eagan-based organization to take on a new challenge: Congress.
 
Mehring started the nonprofit in 1997 as a way for seriously ill people or their family members to create one central, online resource that could keep others updated about health changes. Since then, the site has recorded over two billion visits, and has added distinctive features like a calendar mechanism that lets people arrange tasks like food delivery and doctor's appointment rides.
 
It's likely that the site will have even more innovation in the future, Mehring notes, alluding to a bold strategic vision put together by the leadership team and the nonprofit's Board of Directors.
 
As she transitions out of the organization, Mehring expects it'll take about a year for the full shift to occur, and in that time, she'll be exploring her options for a political campaign.
 
"Bottom line, I want to continue to impact people's lives in a positive way," says Mehring. "Our representation in Congress is out of step with what we need. We need leaders that want to work together to solve problems."
 
She adds that her background, particularly when it comes to building the highly visited CaringBridge site, has given her not only the insight she needs for this career move, but also the motivation.
 
"My life and career experiences have provided me with the skills and drive to work hard to move forward versus backwards," she says. "Making a difference within Congress is a next step for me."
 
Source: Sona Mehring, CaringBridge
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

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
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