Rochester MN

Rochester Residents Given Chance to Change Urban Environment with Call for Proposala

You could play a role in the future of Rochester and have a physical structure of your own creation on display in the city. 

PlaceMakers Prototyping Idea Jam held last Wednesday night wants to make this possible.  The event brought together Rochester residents to collaborate, integrate, and create prototypes- or models testing a concept- to form a healthier, more connected, urban environment.

The event, co-hosted by Destination Medical Center, Rochester Art Center, and Rochester Downtown Alliance, put public design right into the hands of the Rochester community, giving anyone a chance to walk in the door with an idea and turn it into an actual physical structure on the streets of Rochester in only three months.

The Prototyping Idea Jam was facilitated by Ray Boyle and Jake Levitas, co-founders of Our City, a non-profit run out of Oakland, California that works with communities to utilize public design to improve cities. 

But what exactly is public design?  Public design is something that’s created by the public, with the public, for public good, in public space, as explained by Our City.  Public design uses public infrastructure and the built environment in an outdoor space to change some aspect of that environment, in this case, to create a healthier city. 

This Prototyping Idea Jam is part of the PlaceMakers Open Call for Proposals, where Rochester residents- or really anybody- can submit public design concepts that utilize Rochester’s built environment to create a vision of a healthier city.

A previous prototyping workshop held in April identified seven core values that Rochesterites think are vital to a healthy city: nature, connection, accessibility, inclusivity, art, and food.  Applicants are encouraged to create a prototype that encompasses one, or more, of these focal areas. 

The Open Call for Proposals ends June 17th, so get your applications in soon!  Ten selected projects will receive a stipend of $2,000 and have the option to fundraise more capital if needed.  Three projects will also be selected for storm water management on the 3rd Street Ramp.  Two additional projects will focus on the 3rd Street Parking ramp concrete underside. 

Teams have until September to build a 12’x12’x12’ prototype of their idea.  The prototypes will be showcased in the public PlaceMakers Prototyping Festival September 15th-17th along 3rd Street between Broadway to 3rd Avenue SW.

At least fifty people walked in the door for the Prototyping Idea Jam last week.  And not many left until well after the three-hour session was over. 

For the average person, it’s pretty hard to conceptualize transforming some structure you see on your daily walk into something new.  Something that people would actually want to interact with that reflected one of these seven core values.  I was a skeptic going in, thinking I would just sit by passively and listen to what ideas other people developed. Our City walked everyone through an open exercise to get the creative juices flowing, and pretty soon everyone was scribbling away, drawing out their ideas.  Some were insightful and beautiful.  Some were ugly.  Some were just weird.  Some looked like a drunk kindergartener drew them.  Wait…that was mine. 

But the point is, everybody in that room came up with some idea, whether they chose to share it or not.  Everybody developed a concept that had the potential to change Rochester’s urban environment.

What public design ideas did Rochester citizens envision to change their urban environment to support a healthier, more connected, inclusive city?  One person came up with an idea for art filled bike lanes.  There was a concept for portable gardens.  A live social media and event feed that could contain giant emojis.  A stationary bike that played music when pedaled.  Painted artwork and poetry that would appear under certain weather and environmental conditions.

At the end of the night, nine teams formed to support some of these ideas and hopefully submit an application in the upcoming weeks.

The Open Call for Applications is not limited to the people who were in that room last Wednesday night.  It’s open to all of us.  Do you have a great prototype idea that could benefit the city’s health?  Do you want to see some change?  This is our opportunity to take- or leave- to see some change and help to mold an evolving urban environment. 

For more information and details about the prototype application, click here.  Teams will also be looking for help and experts as these projects move forward.  Keep checking social media to see how you can help.

Name of New Rochester Incubator Revealed at very Last BioAM Event

“The entrepreneurial community in Rochester that exists right now is like seeds scattered everywhere. Now, it’s time for those seeds to germinate and Rochester’s entrepreneurial community to bloom,” says Jamie Sundsbak, BioAM Founder and major shaper of Rochester’s innovation community.

Jamie has seen entrepreneurism in Rochester evolve over the past five years with the launch of the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator and Cube coworking.  But he still felt that there was an unmet business development need between these two points. 

He, along with Area 10 Labs owners Hunter and Traci Downs, are developing and will soon launch a brand new business incubator right in Rochester.  “Basically, we want to make it easy.  If you have a great idea and you want to pursue a passion, we want to try and remove as many barriers as possible to get you started and get you moving as fast as possible and hopefully, ultimately, succeed,” says Jamie.

The idea for the incubator came right from the Rochester community.  And there’s no better time than now to launch this thing.

“I’ve always had in my mind an ideal vision of what a business incubator would look like in this city.  I’ve traveled around places like Boulder, Colorado and Kansas City.  I’ve seen incubators working very, very well.  I wanted to take some of those good ideas and bring them back,” explains Jamie.  He’s been sitting on the incubator idea for a long time, and finally all the pieces have fallen into place.

The new incubator will be housed in the historic Conley-Maass Building- which is owned by the Downses- where Jamie, Hunter, and Traci will collaborate to support budding Rochester businesses.  The incubator will be the first building in the Discovery Square region of downtown Rochester, which “added an incentive to have something like this in that space…for the larger vision of what Discovery Square will be,” explains Jamie.

The services and business development structure provided by the incubator have yet to be finalized, but will likely be flushed out and unveiled over the next month.  “We have ideas that we would like to test with potential customers to see if there’s a good fit, because Rochester’s a little bit of an atypical place as well. …We’re just trying to figure out what’s best for Rochester and what fits,” says Jamie.

“With a business incubator, what we’re trying to do is really find some people with some great ideas in the community.  They may have already formed a business.  They might be in the initial stages of starting a business.  But, we really want to go from idea to product and just provide a space for them to be able to scale,” explains Jamie.

Companies are anticipated to stay within the incubator for two and a half to three years, which will fluctuate depending on the type of business.  The incubator will provide some sort of mentorship structure, pulling from shared connections at the local, state, and national level.  The incubator likely will not provide seed capital to incubating businesses, but will connect and encourage companies to seek out funding sources like MNvest, venture capitalists, and angel investor networks.  The large physical space is still in the conceptual stage, but will likely be divided into dedicated desks, semi-private offices, and “hot desks” for day-to-day drop-in use.

It’s time for Rochester’s entrepreneurial community to enter into the blossoming phase and continue to diversify to create a stable economy.  The city houses budding opportunities in the life science, tech, and even food entrepreneurial spaces.

“I would love to see a network of these incubators strength across the city. …What would an incubator look like around a community kitchen?  Or tech styles?  Or a wet lab space?  I could see these specialty incubators sort of popping up.  I think that will happen in the next ten years for sure,” predicts Jamie.

To better serve this diversifying entrepreneurial base, BioAM will also evolve.

“BioAM was intended to grow life science entrepreneurship in Rochester. …I would bring in great life science founders to give talks.  I’d look into the audience and half of the audience were not life science entrepreneurs, but were people who were tech entrepreneurs who were just interested in entrepreneurship in general.  So I started thinking of ways that we could grow an organization to encompass not only life science entrepreneurs, but all entrepreneurs in the city,” says Jamie. 

As part of this shift, BioAM will be resorbed into a larger organization to better support the changing entrepreneurial scene in Rochester.  The group will keep a “bio” name and still hold life science specific events.  But the larger organization will also have complementary tech and general entrepreneurship arms to encompass all of Rochester’s innovators.  Maybe even a branch for food entrepreneurs is in the future.

Jamie admits that leaving his position at Mayo Clinic and trying to launch a business accelerator is risky.  But for him, it wasn’t really a choice to make, but perhaps more like his true path.

“I always felt in spending the last almost five years with BioAM, promoting entrepreneurship, deep down inside when I looked in the mirror that I was kind of a fake.  Because I always had a stable job.  I can host an event and then go back to work and have a job.  Here’s a guy that’s standing in front of between ten to seventy people at every event saying how awesome entrepreneurship was, and how we need it in Rochester, and how we need to do to something.  But I’m getting a paycheck and I’m not breaking out on my own to start something new. …I want to lead by example.  I don’t want to be the guy saying, ‘Hey, go out and do some really risky stuff.  Oh, by the way I’ll be here at Mayo if you need me’.  I want to be the person who’s right there in the trenches with people, taking those risks and living through that.  And I think that will help grow the ecosystem even more because they’ll see not only me, but other great people in the community begin to emerge and to really do great things that aren’t dependent on larger organizations in town.”

“That’s hopefully going to provide encouragement for a lot of other people to do that and create this virtuous cycle of people who hopefully become successful, or at worst fail and learn from it and be able to feed back into the ecosystem and encourage that next group of people forward.”