Three Healthtech Teams Win Big at Sixth Walleye Tank

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This Friday, twenty-three different biotech teams traveled to Rochester to compete in the sixth Walleye Tank business pitch competition. This packed house event, organized by the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship and the Collider Foundation, not only served as a pitch contest. The event additionally brought together multiple pieces of the entrepreneurial ecosystem including venture capitalists, accelerator programs, medical experts, serial entrepreneurs, and business supportive services. In the end, Twin Cities companies NovoClade and ClinicianNexus and Mayo Clinic Florida team The QT Grid walked away as divisional winners. 

Teams competed in three different divisions at Walleye Tank based on stage of business development.

 

Junior Anglers

The first division, the Junior Anglers, included teams in the ideation phase of development who did not yet have a prototype. Nine different teams participated as Junior Anglers at the winter Walleye Tank, the largest group in the competition. 

Adjustable Fracture Nail team from Mayo Clinic Florida won second place in this division. Presented by Mayo Clinic Graduate School student Chris Mehner, Adjustable Fracture Nail targets the 15M patients suffering from long bone fractures in the US each year. These patients are typically treated by insertion of a single, non-adjustable nail into the bone to stabilize the fracture. This process, Mehner explained, it highly dependent on the surgeon’s expertise, resulting in 40% of fracture patients receiving a rotational error of the long bone. This additionally affects bone healing and may lead to joint issues. To solve this problem, the team is creating an adjustable nail containing an internal mechanism to extend the fracture line in the long bone. The nail would also utilize a laser-guided mechanism to finely adjust long bone rotation to the perfect angle. The team believes this product will produce reduced errors, lower surgical time, and decreased medical costs. They currently have a provisional patent on their design. 

Winning the Junior Angler division was the Twin Cities genome editing startup NovoClade. Presented by University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Senior Research Scientist Siba Das, NovoClade is developing SMART technology to control mosquito populations. Current insect management solutions, Das explained, are toxic and not species specific. NovoClade aims to genetically edit mosquito eggs to remove disease carrying insects from the population. The team of four leading the startup include University of Minnesota researchers with over eighty years of combined expertise in genome editing.

 

Mid-Level Reelers 

The second category, the Mid-Level Reelers division, included startups with a prototype or minimally viable product. These companies may or may not have product sales. Eight different teams competed in this division. 

Taking home second place in the Mid-Level category was Twin Cities startup Morari Medical. This startup, presented by healthcare marketing expert Jeff Bennett, addresses the number one male sexual dysfunction, premature ejaculation. Premature ejaculation affects one in three men and can negatively impact quality of life. The Morari Medical team seeks to treat this condition using neuro-modulation based devices to block or delay ejaculation. Neuromodulation is an evolving therapy that alters nerve activity, through chemical or electrical stimuli, at specific nerve sites in the body. With an estimated market size of $15M, Morari Medical is in the early feasibility prototyping stage of development.

Winning the Mid-Level Reeler division was Mayo Clinic Florida innovation The QT Grid. Presented by Postdoctoral Fellow Karim ReFaey, The QT Grid targets the 50M people across the world suffering from epilepsy. Epilepsy, a condition leading to changed electrical activity in the brain, can be caused by stroke, injury, or tumors on the brain or spinal cord, called gliomas. During surgery to remove these gliomas, surgeons also need to monitor electrical activity of the brain through recording electrodes. However, the monitoring devices currently on the market are either too expensive, too cumbersome, or lack complete functionality to perform these tasks. To solve this problem, this team has developed The QT Grid, a ring shaped, patented, and FDA cleared device that allows for 360-degree electrode recordings and readings from all desired areas of the brain simultaneously. The grid is additionally cheaper and more effective than other devices on the market, ReFaey explained.

 

Professional Division 

The final division, the Professionals, were established companies making sales and may be in fundraising mode. This division had six total participants.

Earning second place in the Professional division was Rochester company Ambient Clinical Analytics. Presented by CEO Al Berning, Ambient Clinical has developed a suite of clinical support tools. These solutions address information overload and physician burnout in healthcare settings by taking digital health data, sorting the data, and providing healthcare staff with the 1-5% of the data needed to make an informed decision. These SaaS products received Class II FDA clearance from the FDA. The products are sold on a subscription basis and are in worldwide use. Since launch of the company, Ambient has raised ~$8M to fuel business growth.

Taking home the win in the Professional division was Twin Cities company ClinicianNexus. Presented by CEO Katrina Anderson, this company is targeting the >1M medical students, daily, seeking a clinical rotation experience in over 500K clinical sites in the US alone. Traditionally this matching process is driven by the medical schools using technology as simple as a crowded excel sheet. The ClinicianNexus solution, a collaborative clinical education management tool, assists healthcare sites to proactively address their capacity to teach students; this information can then be shared with medical schools and students seeking to rotate at that particular medical location.

Competing Walleye Tank teams were judged by seasoned entrepreneurs, or “Walleyes,” including: Carla Pavone, Associate Director of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship; Perry Hackett, CEO at Recombinetics; Julie Henry, Enterprise IP Manager at Mayo Clinic; Mark Laisure, CEO at Vortex Media; Pam York, General Partner at Capita3; Bryan Clark, Fellow, Corporate Research at Boston Scientific; Dan Cunagin, Managing Partner at Invenshure; and Fernando Bazan, biotech expert. 

Rochester startup Nanodropper won the first ever Audience Favorite Award. This company, led by Mayo Clinic Medical Student Allisa Song, is developing a universal eye dropper adapter that administers the correct size of medical eye drops to reduce prescription waste.  

Teams fed into Walleye Tank from four different funnels including an open application, a Mayo Clinic Florida Alligator Tank, DMC’s Assistive Tech Challenge, and a Student Entrepreneurial Showcase. 

The next Walleye Tank will be held on May 3rd at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Five Local Biotech Student-Led Teams Advance to Walleye Tank

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 Allisa Song, Nanodropper.

Allisa Song, Nanodropper.

Last Thursday local student-led innovation stole the limelight at the Entrepreneurial Student Showcase + Walleye Tank Student Qualifying Round, a collaboration between Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, Collider Coworking, and the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship. Seventeen different student teams from around the region competed in the event. Twelve of these teams pitched with the hope to enter Walleye Tank, a Minnesota-based biotech business pitch competition. From this student qualifying round, five teams were deemed ready to compete in Walleye Tank, which will take place tomorrow in Rochester. Advancing teams included Nanodropper, NeuroCog, Malleus, UVCanopy, and Intelligent Parking Solutions.

Nanodropper, presented by Mayo Clinic Medical Student Allisa Song, is addressing wasted eyedrop medications from unnecessary overflow during application of meds; the normal amount of liquid dispensed from eye drop bottles is five times that which can be absorbed by the human eye, according the Nanodropper team. In glaucoma treatment alone, excessive waste from eye drops can cost up to $500 per bottle. This waste is a large problem for low income patients or patients that run out of medication before their prescription can be refilled. To solve this problem, the Nanodropper team has developed a medical grade, single-use silicone eye drop adapter that reduces the size of dispensed eye drops to a volume that can be absorbed by the human eye to reduce medical eye drop waste. This adapter has a universal fit and is patent-pending. The team plans to deliver the product to customers through eye care clinics at a cost of $12.99, resulting in an 86% profit margin. By 2020, ~80M patients will be diagnosed with glaucoma, resulting in an estimated market size of $90M in revenue in the US market alone. Nanodropper qualified for the Mid-Level Reeler division of Walleye Tank.

 Logan Grado and Ian Kitchen, Malleus.

Logan Grado and Ian Kitchen, Malleus.

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities students Logan Grado and Ian Kitchen won first place in the Junior Angler Division with Malleus, a hearing aid technology startup. By 2020 an estimated 45M people will be diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing deficiencies, requiring the use of a hearing aid. However, hearing aids are normally tuned by audiologists in a controlled clinical setting, which can be non-functional in a real-world environment. Consequently, when patients need to have their hearing aid adjusted, they have to return to the audiologist, resulting in a costly and inefficient process. Malleus aims to pair artificial intelligence with Bluetooth capable devices to create more personalized, self-directed hearing fits for patients to reduce the need for excessive hearing aid tuning in a clinical setting.  

 James Perreault, UVCanopy.

James Perreault, UVCanopy.

Mayo Clinic Florida researcher and physician team of David Restrepo, Daniel Boczar, Toni Turnbull, and Karim ReFaey won second place in the Junior Angler division with their concept, NeuroCog. Brain surgery patients, the team explained, require frequent pre- and postoperative evaluations of cognitive function, which can be very time and resource consuming. To address this issue, they propose the development of a tablet-based application providing standardized, automatized cognitive testing to complement routine postoperative monitoring of neurosurgery patients. This app would incorporate artificial intelligence-based voice, facial, and text recognition to perform cognitive assessments, targeting the 13.8M neurosurgeries occurring globally each year. 

Also qualifying for the Junior Angler Division of Walleye Tank, and winning the Audience Favorite Award, was Saint Mary’s University Finance Student James Perreault with his concept UVCanopy. UVCanopy is addressing the lack of sanitation on items like wheel chairs and other hospital equipment, primarily targeting nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. The UVCanopy uses germicidal UV-C light to kill bacteria in a tunnel-shaped device. Medical equipment could be pushed through the tunnel for sterilization purposes, additionally eliminating human error involved in the sanitation process and reducing dependency on hazardous sterilization chemicals. UVCanopy proposes to make profits through subscription sales and purchases of replacement parts. The team is currently working with the Saint Mary’s University Science Department to test different light volatility in the disinfection process.  

 Sinibaldo Romero, Intelligent Parking Solutions.

Sinibaldo Romero, Intelligent Parking Solutions.

The final team to qualify for the Junior Angler Division of Walleye Tank was the Intelligent Parking Solutions concept, led by Mayo Clinic Post Baccalaureate Fellow Sinibaldo Romero. This concept aims to utilize data analytics to increase parking efficiencies in healthcare organizations. The team proposed using cameras in parking spaces to identify unused spots. The product would leverage machine learning to understand parking patterns for patients and staff to determine more efficient mechanisms for healthcare parking. Parking is a multi-million-dollar industry for healthcare institutions. Missed medical appointments due to lack of parking in the US is documented to cost $150B to healthcare institutions each year.

Student showcase teams were judged by Heather Holmes, Vice President of Marketing at Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc.; Chris Lukenbill, Founder at Fresh Edge; Sunny Prabhakar, Account Strategist at Corporate Web Services, Inc., Jon Ninas, Career Awareness Specialist at Mayo Clinic; Sam Gill, Workforce Development Manager at the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce; and Brady Olson, Human Resources Administrative Assistant at Mayo Clinic. The Walleye Tank Student Qualifying Round was judged by Chris Schad, Director of Business Development for Discovery Square; Joselyn Raymundo, Founder of Rochester Home Infusion; Xavier Frigola, Director of Entrepreneurship at Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc.; and Shuai Li, Lab Manager at Mayo Clinic.

Watch all the Walleye Tank student qualifying round pitches on the YouTube channel. Catch these teams live as they pitch in Walleye Tank tomorrow starting at noon in Rochester. Walleye Tank is a free event that is open to the public.

New Cowork Space Offers Hub for Winona Entrepreneurs

 Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

Located just one block from the Mississippi River in Winona, Minn., The Garage Co-Work Space aims to promote and foster entrepreneurship. The coworking facility, Winona’s first, is the fruition of a two-year collaboration among dedicated community members to fuel entrepreneurship and provide a local hub for innovation. 

 The Garage Co-Work Executive Director Samantha Strand, far left. Garage Co-Work Owner Eric Mullen, right. Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

The Garage Co-Work Executive Director Samantha Strand, far left. Garage Co-Work Owner Eric Mullen, right. Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

“The Winona Community is and always has been a very entrepreneurial place. One thing it has been lacking is a center for entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial events. This is a key void The Garage can fill,” said Owner Eric Mullen. “The Garage Co-Work Space plans to be a place to host and coordinate these types of things to further connect the community.”

The name of the coworking facility pays homage to the humble beginnings of businesses started in basements or garages, to entrepreneurs who just needed some type of space in which to create. The coworking facility offers a central location for Winona’s entrepreneurs to link up, problem solve together, and allow their businesses to thrive. 

“If you just give people space to think and to dream and to do and to reach out and connect to people, sometimes that’s all they really need,” explained Samantha Strand, Executive Director of The Garage Co-Work Space.

After a ribbon cutting ceremony on November 14th, the coworking facility is officially open to the public. Now, Strand says she’s excited to share the space and help others understand the benefits of coworking in Winona.

The Garage Co-Work has an open space coworking format, with no private offices. The facility also houses two conference rooms, a lounge area, kitchenette, and two private phone booth areas. Desk space can be rented daily, weekly, monthly, or permanently.

The Garage Co-Work is the pinnacle of a two-year brainstorming partnership between many local supporting entities in Winona who wished to create a focal hub for entrepreneurs within the city. Winona State University School of Business, the City of Winona, the Port Authority of Winona, and Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, Strand said, were all instrumental in the ideation and launch of the coworking facility.

In addition to the physical space, The Garage Co-Work will also provide business development programming and networking events to help facilitate local business growth and education. Upcoming events include 1 Million Cups Winona on December 12th and The Garage Co-Work’s first Fireside Chat with the Founder of WinCraft on December 17th.

Strand, a Twin Cities native, was drawn back to the area after completing her bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship at Baylor University. Although she has ideas for starting a business of her own someday, now she’s driven to help others succeed.  

“At the core of what I really love is entrepreneurship and helping other people believe that they can be entrepreneurs…and they can go out and do big things and they can make a difference,” she explained.

 Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

Strand said there’s a definitive energy around entrepreneurship and strong grassroots entrepreneurial movements already occurring in Winona. She thinks, however, that even more innovation activity could be occurring, which the Garage Co-Work Space could help to facilitate.

Even if you don’t consider yourself entrepreneurial, Strand suggests just placing yourself on the mailing list of your local coworking space. You never know when you might benefit or be able to help someone in that extended network.

Where are they Now: UNRAVELED Escape Room

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Last October we shared the story of husband and wife team Jackie and Ryan Steiner, owners of UNRAVELED Escape Room. The Steiners have always been business owners, but made a dramatic shift in their careers two years ago to open their current endeavor, a sixty-minute locked room challenge, on December 1, 2016.

On nearly the two-year anniversary of its launch, UNRAVELED Escape Room remains a leading puzzle room challenge in Rochester; the Steiners are currently seeking innovative ways to scale the business and are expecting a two-hundred percent uptick in business growth compared to their first full year.

“We are already proving to be Rochester’s top choice for a go-to fun group experience, so being able to share these exciting experiences with other people is our ultimate goal,” explained Ryan Steiner.  

Since we spoke about one year ago, Jackie and Ryan developed a brand-new business category for UNRAVELED, called Wits & Grits. This novel, team-based 5K challenge includes an outdoor obstacle course with escape room style stations “where you challenge your brain and brawn together.” The Steiners have also rolled out Mobile and Mini Escapes- 6’x6’ puzzles or 2’x2’ lock boxes, respectively- that can be rented out for parties or other events.

This past year, Jackie and Ryan have also immersed themselves in several business courses to reframe their mindsets and to allow the pair to steamroll UNRAVELED Escape Room forward. In 2019, they plan to completely revamp all three current UNRAVELED puzzle challenges, including adding on a brand new “Upside Down Room” concept.

 Become a Supporting Member of Rochester Rising! Click to learn more.

Become a Supporting Member of Rochester Rising! Click to learn more.

Become a Supporting Member of Rochester Rising!

During the past ~2 years that Rochester Rising has existed, we’ve told the stories of over 143 different entrepreneurs, startups, and innovation initiatives in Rochester and the surrounding communities. Many of these stories were in biotech and healthtech. However, we’ve shared the journey of many other entrepreneurs, including those operating in retail, food and beverage, fitness, tech, and social entrepreneurship.

We feel that it’s important to tell the stories of people taking risks, taking chances with no safety net, innovating, creating, and not following the expected route. These stories are valuable tools to inspire others, showcase the creativity that is already occurring here, and build up the entrepreneurial community piece by piece.

Supporting Memberships help to keep this platform running and help us to run events around the community. Additionally, our Supporting Members receive a range of perks, including access to online, supporting member only content and deeply discounted advertisement packages.

We run our Supporting Membership through an online platform called Patreon, where our Supporting Members, or “Patrons,” can give anything from $1 to $25 each month. Unlike many other membership drives, our Supporting Members get new rewards each year, which they receive as long as they stay a Supporting Member. Head to our Patreon page to learn more and to become a Supporting Member today: https://www.patreon.com/RochesterRising.

Rochester Rising Launches Second Annual Fall Supporting Member Drive

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It’s time again for the Rochester Rising Fall Supporting Member drive! If you enjoy reading our articles, listening in the podcasts, and watching our video content about the emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem in Rochester, Minnesota and our surrounding communities, considering become a Supporting Member of Rochester Rising to help keep this platform going.

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And most importantly, I want to say a big thank you to the many Supporting Members who have been here since the start. Your support was instrumental to make this news platform operational.

Rochester Rising was launched in July 2016 to tell stories of Rochester-based innovation that would otherwise remain untold. Today, we still remain the only entrepreneurially-focused news site in the community.


During the past ~2 years that Rochester Rising has existed, we’ve told the stories of over 143 different entrepreneurs, startups, and innovation initiatives in Rochester and the surrounding communities. Many of these stories were in biotech and healthtech. However, we’ve shared the journey of many other entrepreneurs, including those operating in retail, food and beverage, fitness, tech, and social entrepreneurship. 

We feel that it’s important to tell the stories of people taking risks, taking chances with no safety net, innovating, creating, and not following the expected route. These stories are valuable tools to inspire others, showcase the creativity that is already occurring here, and build up the entrepreneurial community piece by piece.

With more activity in our community than we ever seen before, now is the exact time for something like Rochester Rising to exist to document and begin to record the rise of entrepreneurship in Rochester. We do have a small and young entrepreneurial community, but it’s growing daily. We feel that it’s essential to tell this story. As an entrepreneurial myself, Rochester Rising is has the most advantageous vantage point to amplify this content.

Rochester Rising has had steady impact in the community. The articles, podcasts, and videos that we generate allow people to see the faces and hear the voices of our local creators. 

Starting in this year, we’ve also begun launching some women-focused entrepreneurial events to connect and engage the entrepreneurial community, with our partners at The Commission. We have also begun to produce educational materials to help people understand and connect to the community. This includes our “Roadmap to the Rochester Entrepreneurial Community”, which is updated yearly as well as self-published print and online magazines to share these stories in a different way. This past year we've also launched an ongoing #Emerge series to showcase the faces and voices of Rochester's entrepreneurial community, a “Strong Women Creating Value” series to showcase local female leaders, and a “Minnesota Innovation Hub” series to demonstrate the multiple entrepreneurial hubs across Minnesota.

This whole process has involved an immense amount of learning, failing, and growing. 

Why do we need to have Supporting Members and why should you consider becoming one?

Well foremost, Supporting Memberships help to keep this platform running and help us to run events around the community. Additionally, our Supporting Members receive a range of perks, including access to online, supporting member only content and deeply discounted advertisement packages.


We run our Supporting Membership through an online platform called Patreon, where our Supporting Members, or “Patrons,” can give anything from $1 to $25 each month. Unlike many other membership drives, our Supporting Members get new rewards each year, which they receive as long as they stay a Supporting Member.

If you’re not ready or interested in a monthly contribution, one time donations are also highly appreciated. 

If you think Rochester Rising is something that should continue to exist in this community, please consider becoming a sustaining member. You can find out more information on our Patreon page

Six Startups from across U.S. Aim to Improve Patient Care through Devices, Software, and Care Management in gBETA Medtech Fall 2018 Cohort

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 Minneapolis, MN – gBETA Medtech, a program of the nationally ranked accelerator gener8tor, has selected six startups for its Fall 2018 cohort from an international applicant pool. gBETA Medtech is funded by Boston Scientific with additional support from Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota and Medical Alley Association. 

“gBETA Medtech’s success this year is a testimony to the demand for even greater collaboration between early-stage ventures, influential institutions and corporate leaders,” said Dave Knapp, vice president, Corporate Research at Boston Scientific. “As we build more and closer relationships across this ecosystem, we move closer to our ultimate goal: an even greater impact on patient care, lives changed and lives saved.” 

 gBETA Medtech is a free, seven-week accelerator that works with medical device, healthcare-related software, biotech, and diagnostics startups for no fees and no equity. Each gBETA program is capped at six companies to ensure meaningful engagement with sponsors and other resources. Participants receive intensive and individualized coaching and access to physicians, researchers, successful entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, and industry experts. The program is designed to help startups gain early customer traction on their product or idea, and establish metrics that can make them competitive applicants for full-time, equity-based accelerators or seed investment. 

“Demand for programs like ours is only growing in the wake of our first two cohorts’ success. We believe that the solutions these companies offer to address diverse clinical needs have the potential to be truly disruptive, and we can’t wait to integrate these companies into Medical Alley,” said Adam Choe, director of gBETA Medtech. 

 The gBETA Medtech Fall 2018 cohort includes: 

CorInnova (Houston, Texas) designs and develops a revolutionary soft robotic non-blood contacting biventricular cardiac assist device for the treatment of heart failure (HF) that would eliminate 40% of the adverse events associated with existing cardiac assist devices. 

CEO: William Altman | william.altman@corinnova.com | www.corinnova.com 

Drug Free Therapeutix (Indianapolis, Indiana) designs and develops an intelligent, networked non-invasive closed-loop vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) technology that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to treat a variety of pain and gastrointestinal disorders. 

CEO: Stephen Hourigan | shourigan@dftxllc.com | www.drugfreetherapeutix.com  

HabitAware (Minneapolis, Minnesota) makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps people manage compulsive behaviors including trichotillomania (hair pulling), skin picking, nail biting and more. 

CEO: Sameer Kumar | sameer@habitaware.com | www.habitware.com 

Nutrimedy (Boston, Massachusetts) improves the outdated care delivery model for clinical nutrition connecting patients with expert registered dietitians to provide education, support, and counseling for over 50 conditions through a web platform and mobile app.

CEO: Karolina Starczak | karolina@nutrimedy.com | www.nutrimedy.com 

Phraze (San Francisco, California) automates physician electronic medical record (EMR) data entry and documentation requirements utilizing an AI scribe. 

Co-Founder: Brandon McCutcheon | brandon@phraze.co | www.phraze.co 

Vital Health Links (Woodbury, Minnesota) specializes in helping medical practices and healthcare organizations realize new revenue and improve quality metrics through Medicare’s Chronic Care Management program. 

CEO: Saurin Patel | saurin@vitalhealthlinks.com | www.vitalhealthlinks.com 

Startups interested in learning more should contact gBETA Medtech Director Adam Choe (adam@gener8tor.com). For more information on the program and ways to get involved, please visit www.gbetamedtech.com. 

Allianz Life and Securian Financial Team up with gener8tor to Invest in, Accelerate Insurance Innovation

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New “OnRamp Insurance Accelerator” invests in tech startups, and annual “OnRamp Insurance Conference” coming to Twin Cities.

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL, Minn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--To invest in the next generation of insurance technology and innovation, Allianz Life Ventures, part of Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, and Securian Financial have joined forces with nationally ranked startup accelerator, gener8tor, to establish the OnRamp Insurance Accelerator. 

Each year, five startups will be accepted into the three-month, concierge accelerator program in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Each will receive a cash investment of $100,000, office space and access to gener8tor’s global network of mentors and investors. Applications are now open for the first OnRamp Insurance Accelerator cohort. Startups may apply at onrampinsuranceaccelerator.com/apply. 

“We are pleased to partner with gener8tor to support the insurance tech startups that are developing the tools and technology for tomorrow’s insurance industry,” said Walter White, president and chief executive officer of Allianz Life. “We have a common vision of the potential of new technologies, and a commitment to finding new, innovative and efficient ways to serve our contract and policyholders both today and for years to come.” 

The creation of the OnRamp Insurance Accelerator builds off the success of the industry-leading OnRamp Insurance Conference. As part of the new Allianz Life Ventures, Securian Financial and gener8tor relationship, the annual OnRamp Insurance Conference will be held in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The 2019 OnRamp Insurance Conference will take place on April 11, 2019 at Target Center. 

Started by gener8tor in 2016, the OnRamp Insurance Conference brings together the insurance industry’s leading corporations, investors and startups. The event specifically focuses on connecting insurance startups and investors with insurance executives in corporate venture capital, innovation, M&A and strategy. The conference highlights innovations disrupting the insurance industry, the leaders making such innovations possible and how new technologies and business models will reinvent the industry. The one-day event, which always takes place in a sports stadium, includes a full day of programming. 

“The OnRamp Insurance Conference will bring thousands of insurance executives, investors and startups to the Twin Cities. To build off of those relationships, we are thrilled to team up with two of the best carriers in the business to invest in the best insurtech startups via the OnRamp
Insurance Accelerator,” said Troy Vosseller, co-founder of gener8tor.

About Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America 

Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, one of FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For® in 2018, has been keeping its promises since 1896. Today, it carries on that tradition, helping Americans achieve their retirement income and protection goals with a variety of annuities and life insurance products. In 2017, Allianz Life provided a total of $2.7 billion in benefit payments that supported policyholders’ financial objectives. As a leading provider of fixed index annuities, Allianz Life is part of Allianz SE, a global leader in the financial services industry with 142,000 employees in more than 70 countries worldwide. More than 85 million private and corporate customers rely on Allianz knowledge, global reach, and capital strength to help them make the most of financial opportunities. 

About Allianz Life Ventures 

Allianz Life Ventures, part of Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (Allianz Life), makes investments in North American companies with potential market traction and a demonstrated ability to drive innovation. Allianz Life Ventures is uniquely positioned to leverage the financial strength and in-house expertise of Allianz Life to help our partners succeed. Active in all investment stages from seed and early stage to growth, current partners include: Core Innovation Capital, blooom, tomorrow, LifeYield, Gainfully, Vestwell, Ladder, and Covr. 

About Securian Financial 

At Securian Financial, we’re here for family. And we’re here because of it. We’re guided by our purpose: helping customers build secure tomorrows. Since 1880, we’ve been building a uniquely diversified company that has outlasted economic ups and downs while staying true to our customers. We’re committed to the markets we serve, providing insurance, investment and retirement solutions that give families the confidence to focus on what’s truly valuable: banking memories with those who matter most. 

About OnRamp Insurance Accelerator 

Each year, the OnRamp Insurance Accelerator, with Allianz Life and Securian Financial, invests in five insurtech startups who participate in a three-month, concierge accelerator program in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Each startup receives a cash investment of $100,000, office space and access to gener8tor’s global network of mentors and investors. 

About OnRamp Insurance Conference 

The OnRamp Insurance Conference brings together the insurance industry’s leading corporations, investors and startups. The event specifically focuses on connecting insurance startups and investors with insurance executives in corporate venture capital, innovation, M&A and strategy. The conference highlights innovations disrupting the insurance industry, the leaders making such innovations possible and how new technologies and business models will reinvent the industry. 

About gener8tor 

gener8tor is a turnkey platform for the creative economy that connects startups, entrepreneurs, artists, investors, universities and corporations. The gener8tor platform includes pre-accelerators, accelerators, corporate programming, conferences and fellowships focused on entrepreneurs, artists and musicians. gener8tor is a nationally ranked, GOLD-tier accelerator in the U.S. as ranked by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project. 

R.A.V.E. Honors Local Entrepreneurs at Fifth Annual Celebration

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Last week the fifth annual Recognizing Awarding Valuing Entrepreneurs (R.A.V.E.) event took place in the Rochester community to celebrate and share stories of regional innovation. R.A.V.E. is hosted by Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. (RAEDI), Journey to Growth, and 504 Corporation as part of Rochester’s Global Entrepreneurship Week.

The 2018 R.A.V.E. event drew in over two-hundred attendees including entrepreneurs, supportive services, established businesses, and community leadership.

“Look around the room. Look at the crowd we have,” explained Ryan Nolander, President of RAEDI. “It’s a wonderful evening, a wonderful event where we get to showcase our entrepreneurs and the future they have in front of them and the great things they provide for the community.” 

This year, R.A.V.E. honored local companies: Sprouts Childcare and Early Education Center, Trailtopia Adventure Food, and Vyriad.

Sprouts Childcare and Early Education Center was founded by husband and wife team Krystal and Patrick Campbell in 2018 to fill a growing childcare need in Stewartville, Minnesota and the surrounding communities. The facility is licensed for up to ninety-nine children from six weeks to twelve-years-old. Trailtopia was founded in 2013 by local entrepreneur Vince Robichaud. This Byron-based, family-run company creates and sells freeze-dried and dehydrated foods in specially engineered bags, in which the food can both be cooked and eaten. Vyriad is a Rochester clinical stage biopharmaceutical company founded in 2015 by Mayo Clinic investigators Dr. Stephen Russell and Dr. Kah-Whye Peng. Vyriad is developing multiple oncolytic viral platforms to deliver cancer therapeutics with proprietary reporter gene technology.  

From 2014 to 2017, R.A.V.E. has honored sixteen regional businesses, ranging from biotech to pet product companies, including: Mill Creek Life Sciences, BrandHoot, Imanis Life Sciences, DoApp Inc., Transfuse Solutions, LiquidCool Solutions, Ambient Clinical Analytics, GoRout, Rochester Home Infusion, Area 10 Labs, Resoundant, Enlightened Equipment, Licks, Sonex Health, Envirolastech, and River Bluff Technologies.

A 2014 R.A.V.E. honoree, Mill Creek Life Sciences, a Rochester company producing clinical grade cell culture media, has grown sales by twenty-five percent annually over the last three years. The company also placed second this year in the Minnesota Cup Life Sciences/Health IT Division. Mill Creek is additionally expanding from a research reagent into a cancer therapy company.  

Since being honored in 2014, Rochester website and mobile app development company BrandHoot moved into a new, larger office space. This business has also more than quadrupled their revenue since 2014 to add on additional team members.

 A 2015 R.A.V.E. honoree, hardware and software football technology company GoRout has more than doubled their sales over the past three years. The company has customers in every major college football conference and recently made their first international sale. In 2017, GoRout deployed their own private national network exclusive to their technology. Since this time, over 300,000 plays have been sent over this network. The company has recently moved to a larger location in Rochester to accommodate their growth.

Sonex Health, a 2017 R.A.V.E. honoree and creator of the SX-One MicroKnife to enable minimally invasive carpal tunnel release surgery, has more than doubled in growth and revenue from 2017-2018. The company recently graduated from the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator and has moved into a larger space in Rochester to assist their 100% increase in staff over the last year. Sonex additionally built a specialized training facility in their new location for physicians to learn how to use their technology.

Steve and Umbelina Cremer, CEO of Harmony Enterprises and Executive Director of Harmony Kids Learning Center respectively, were also honored as R.A.V.E. Lifetime Achievement Honorees. And finally, the Southeast Minnesota Capital Fund was granted the R.A.V.E. Warrior Award for their advocacy work for Rochester entrepreneurs.

All Major Sectors in Medical Alley Break $100 million Raised for First Time

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Medical Alley’s third quarter ended with new industry records and new milestones set across the board. 27 Medical Alley-based companies raised $176,089,457 in Q3, the second-best Q3 in the last five years.

“Medical Alley's portfolio of growing companies across the healthcare spectrum continues to demonstrate that this region is the best place to solve healthcare's biggest challenges, regardless of what sector you are in.” said Shaye Mandle, President and CEO, Medical Alley Association.

Medical Alley device companies raised $90 million this quarter, continuing a steady growth trend that began in 2009. Biotech companies also set new milestones in Medical Alley, breaking $100 million in capital raised in a year for the first time in Medical Alley history. Digital Health investment continued its strong run with $32 million raised in the third quarter for a year-to-date total of $116 million.

Most noteworthy in Q3 is that all major sectors in Medical Alley broke $100 million in year-to-date funds raised for the first time.

The top-raising companies included Recombinetics with $34M in Series A funding, Urotronic Inc. with $20M in Series B funding, 4C Medical Technologies with $17M in Series A funding, and Vireo Health LLC and Cardialen each raising $16M.

To see the full report click here.

About The Medical Alley Association

Founded in 1984, the Medical Alley Association supports and advances the global leadership of Medical Alley’s healthcare industry, and its connectivity around the world. MAA delivers the collective influence, intelligence and interactions that support Medical Alley.

What's Happening in the Rochester Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Startup Weekend, The Assistive Tech Challenge, and Global Entrepreneurship Week

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The past two weeks have witnessed a significant amount of activity in Rochester’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Beginning with Startup Weekend and ending yesterday with twenty-two different events taking place across the community, the last fifteen days have offered a wide taste of the culture and diversity of Rochester’s current innovation community.

 

Techstars Startup Weekend (Oct 26-28th) 

Startup Weekend is a fifty-four-hour event, powered by the global Techstars accelerator program. Approximately forty individuals joined in Startup Weekend this year as participants, coaches, judges, and organizers. At this event, many began the weekend on Friday evening as strangers and quickly formed strategic teams around the top ideas. Teams spent the remaining hours building out a business canvas, performing customer validation in the community, and preparing business pitches. Six teams pitched to a panel of judges on Sunday night, which included Julie Henry, Enterprise IP Contract Manager at Mayo Clinic; Xavier Frigola, Director of the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator; Stephen Ekker, Director of the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship; Sarah Miller, Owner of White Space; and Matt Smyth, President and Chief Strategist at Headland Law.

The Smarter City team, composed of Garrett Lieffring, Josef Chlachula, and Jeremiah Harbach, won third place in the competition. Smarter City helps Rochester residents and visitors wayfind and locate food, activities, lodging, and key information around the city of Rochester using Smart City QR tags. These tags could serve as catalysts to direct individuals to local resources and experiences and to facilitate self-guided city tours.   

Sajal Kherde, Anthony Kyle, and Phil Stubbs took second place at Startup Weekend with their 20 x 20 concept. 20 x 20 is an online platform for local artists to sell their oil paintings and wall hangings. The platform also provides analytics and includes a story about the art and the artist behind the creation. By Sunday evening, the team already had artists signed up to use their platform.

Team E3, composed of Grace Pesch, Jay Franson, and James Perreault, won Startup Weekend with their “What Were You Thinking?” card game. This game, based on the nine Enneagram personality categories, could function as a unique way to teach empathy, improve personal relationships, and provide team building opportunities. The team marketed their game on Facebook and had preorders by Sunday evening. 

If you missed out on the event, you can catch up with the pitches by checking out the Facebook live video on our social media. You can also visit our video of the weekend to better understand the impact an event like Startup Week has on the Rochester community.

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 The Assistive Tech Challenge (November 3rd) 

The Assistive Tech Challenge pitch event took place on Saturday November 3rd as part of the Assistive Tech Expo at the Rochester Technical and Community College Heintz Center. This business pitch competition sought solutions to eliminate employment barriers, reduce dependency on caregivers, enable richer social interactions, and elevate access to community infrastructure for people living with disabilities. The competition was facilitated by the Destination Medical Center Discovery Square Team, The Arc Minnesota Southeast Region, and the disABILITY Mayo Clinic Employee Resource Group.

Twenty-eight teams applied to compete in this inaugural competition, DMC’s very first tech pitch event, including a team from Naples, Florida. Teams competed in two divisions, an Open Competition for ideas from the community and a Professional Division, for businesses with less than $250,000 in annual revenue. First and second place in each division received $5,000 and $2,500 respectively from The Arc Minnesota.  

In the Open Division, Samantha Grover came in second place with her concept AbleKitchen. AbleKitchen is an all-in-one recipe, meal planning, and shopping application to make cooking more accessible for people with, and without, disabilities. Rochester team of Cody Schmidt and Nick Elliott won first place in the Open Division with their “Adapt-A-Cart” prototype, a device that allows for seamless attachment and detachment of a wheelchair to a grocery cart to make shopping simpler and more efficient.

In the Professional Division, Minneapolis business Mobility 4 All won second place with their “kinder, gentler ride service for senior and people with disabilities.” Vitals Aware Services, also from Minneapolis, took first place in the Professional Division. This business created technology that enables real time communication between first responders and persons with mental illness during times of crises.

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Global Entrepreneurship Week (November 5th-9th)

Rochester’s Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is a grassroots, weeklong effort to celebrate entrepreneurship across the city. Twenty-two events took place over the course of the week, organized by multiple components of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, including: Rochester Rising, Collider Coworking, Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc., 1 Million Cups Rochester, Community and Economic Development Associates, The Commission, Destination Medical Center, Grand Rounds Brewing Company, Gray Duck Theater, The Half Barrel, the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship, Mayo Clinic Ventures, Mortenson, NAMI Southeast MN, Rochester Entrepreneurial Network, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, Café Steam, Taco Jed, Techweek, Winona State University, Women in Science and Engineering Research, BrandHoot, and Narrative Experiential Designs.

These events brought in over 600 participants, offering a wide taste of this city’s entrepreneurial culture. Events such as these are essential for an entrepreneur-led community. You can see all that happened by searching for the hashtags #gewroch on social media. Check back in over the next week for more in-depth stories about some of the events that took place during the 2018 Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week.

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#Emerge Episode 23 with Bucky Beeman and Peter Andrews

Today on #Emerge we visit local entrepreneurs Bucky and Peter at Offices at China Hall. Offices at China Hall is Rochester's newest coworking space, located on 1st Avenue SW in the heart of downtown Rochester. This space includes a conference room, open workspace with a kitchenette, and six private offices. This 2nd floor location was last used as a china shop and later turned into Rochester Restaurant Supply. Offices at China Hall is activating a space that has not been in use since the 1950s.

Rochester Team “Adapt-A-Cart” Wins Open Division of the Inaugural Assistive Tech Challenge

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(Rochester, MN) November 3, 2018 – Adapt-A-Cart from Rochester won big in the Open division at the inaugural Assistive Tech Challenge on Saturday, November 3.  Adapt-A-Cart provides an adaption on grocery carts for the wheelchair user that is light, compact, assistive and easily attachable and detachable.  This device allows wheelchair users the opportunity to easily shop with the standard cart from the comfort of their own chair.  Adapt-A-Cart team collaborators are Rochester residents Nicholas Elliott and Cody Schmidt.  

AbleKitchen from Minneapolis placed second in the Open Division.  Vitals Aware Services, Inc. and Mobility 4 All - both from Minneapolis took top honors in the Professional Division.

First place teams in the Open and Professional divisions were awarded $5,000 by The Arc Minnesota.  Second place teams received $2,500 from the Arc Minnesota.  All first and second place teams are automatically eligible to participate in the Walleye Tank pitch competition in Rochester, MN on December 7, 2018.

Thirteen teams came from the greater Rochester area, the Twin Cities and nationally from Naples, Florida.  University teams participating included: University of Minnesota, Minnesota State University Mankato and University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. 

The Assistive Tech Challenge was presented by Destination Medical Center Discovery Square in collaboration with The Arc Minnesota Southeast Region and the disABILITY Mayo Clinic Employee Resource Group to facilitate greater independence for individuals with disabilities and the daily challenges they face.

Special thanks to Fredrikson and Byron, P.A. and Home Federal for their support of the Assistive Tech Challenge.

The Assistive Tech Challenge Debuts November 3 in Rochester

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(Rochester, MN) November 1, 2018 - Destination Medical Center is pleased to introduce the Assistive Tech Challenge - a pitch competition presented by Destination Medical Center’s Discovery Square in collaboration with The Arc Minnesota Southeast Region and the disABILITY Mayo Clinic Employee Resource Group to facilitate greater independence for individuals with disabilities and the daily challenges they face. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018 at the Assistive Technology Expo 

Heintz Center, 1926 Collegeview Rd E, Rochester, Minnesota 

Expo Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. 

Assistive Tech Challenge Pitch Competition: 12 Noon – 3:00 p.m. 

 The Assistive Tech Challenge seeks solutions to: 

● Alleviating barriers to employment; 

● Providing support for care providers; 

● Enhancing social skill development to cultivate meaningful relationships; and 

● Improving access to the community through public infrastructure 

There are two divisions: 

Open (community-based teams and students) 

Professional (corporations formed with annual revenues not exceeding $250,000) 

Thirteen participating teams come from the greater Rochester area and the Twin Cities and universities, including: University of Minnesota, Winona State University, Minnesota State University Mankato and University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. 

Teams will address the following questions in a five-minute presentation to an expert panel of judges, followed by two minutes of Q&A: 

● What problem are you solving? 

● How are you solving the problem? 

● Why is your team the one to solve it? 

● What do you need to further develop your idea? 


$15,000 will be awarded by The Arc Minnesota to the first and second place winners in each division to further advance their idea. 

First Prize: $5,000 

Second Prize: $2,500 

All first and second place teams will be eligible to participate in the Walleye Tank pitch competition in Rochester, MN on December 7, 2018. 

Special thanks to Fredrikson and Byron, P.A. and Home Federal for their support of the Assistive Tech Challenge. 

Global Entrepreneurship Week Kicks Off Monday as Five Day Celebration of Innovation in Rochester

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It has arrived. On Monday November 5th, Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) will launch in Rochester for five days, bringing twenty-one different events to the community to celebrate entrepreneurship and innovation. GEW is not just for entrepreneurs. It’s for anyone interested in learning more about Rochester’s entrepreneurial culture and how to plug in. So, block some time off on your calendar and get ready to participate in “The Week of the Entrepreneur,” as proclaimed by Rochester’s Mayor Ardell Brede for the second consecutive year.

GEW Rochester will kick off at 7:30AM at the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce with a morning reception with some coffee and light refreshments to network and launch into the week. 

The celebration will be capped off on Friday with a very special presentation from Kira Blackwell, Program Executive at NASA, about the NASA iTECH Program, an innovative way for agencies like NASA to interact and work with entrepreneurs. Kira is an executive management professional with expertise in aerospace, biotechnology, and technology management. The NASA iTECH program is an initiative through NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) to discover and vet innovative technologies to solve problems both on Earth and in space exploration.  

In addition to these events, Rochester Rising will also be hosting some programs during the week. Our first is an Entrepreneurial Book Club Discussion and Happy Hour in collaboration with The Commission. This event will take place on Wednesday November 7th at 4:30 PM at Grand Rounds Brew Pub. The first hour of the event will be an open networking happy hour, similar to our “Elevating Women Happy Hour” events. The second half of the event will include a book discussion about John Carreyrou's "Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” the story of Theranos. Come to discuss this riveting story of biotech fraud.

Our second hosted event of the week is a “Mental Health for Entrepreneurs Workshop with NAMI SE MN.” This event will take place on Thursday November 8th at 7:30 am at the Café Steam Broadway location. NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. Join us for this timely and vital discussion about mental health issues in entrepreneurs and ways to work toward better overall health.

Our final hosted event of the week will take place at 6PM on Thursday with a Founders Talk with Sonex Health CEO Darryl Barnes. Sonex Health is a Rochester based medical device company that developed the SX-One Microknife, a device for minimally invasive carpal tunnel release surgery. Since Sonex Health graduated from the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator, the company has continued to grow in size and impact in the community. 

Check out the Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week page for the full details and complete event listings. I challenge each of you to attend at least one event this upcoming week to learn more about our entrepreneurial culture.

Here's What you Missed at Startup Weekend Rochester 2018

Techstars Startup Weekend Rochester is a 54 hour event to take a concept from the idea stage to the beginning states of a startup over the course of a single weekend. Startup Weekend is a great chance to explore entrepreneurship in a collaborative, encouraging environment while learning lean startup skills.

Locally Designed Prototypes on Display in DMC's Heart of the City Subdistrict for Next Month

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Three Rochester innovators will see their creations come to life this month as part of this city’s downtown infrastructure. After a two-year journey, these public health prototypes, created during a city-wide prototyping festival, are on display in Destination Medical Center’s Heart of the City subdistrict for further development as the structures seek their final home.

All three concepts- “the Artery,” “Info Alley,” and “Multilingual Pedestrian Signage”- were born in June 2016 at the Rochester “Idea Jam,” an event to engage the community to tap its creative side and transform the built environment to better support public health. This initiative- supported by DMC, the Rochester Art Center, and Downtown Rochester Alliance- brought together fifty-five community members to develop concepts engaging nature, food, connectiveness, inclusivity, accessibility, diversity, or art to improve health. Twenty different ideas for prototypes, or small models to test a concept, emerged from this session.

Over the next few months, ideas for prototypes were submitted as proposals, with sixteen concepts chosen to be built and displayed during a three-day PlaceMakers Prototyping Festival in September 2016. During that time, about five thousand people interacted with the prototypes.

Now, three of these original concepts have been scaled to an even larger level and are on display for the next month for further refining and testing in the Peace Plaza. These prototypes include: “The Artery,” “Info Alley,” and “Multilingual Pedestrian Signage.” 

Development of “The Artery” is led by local artist Eric Anderson. This art piece displays “the profound moments of hope and healing happening within our healthcare institutions every day.” This installation changes color based on real-time data from Mayo Clinic to signal health events such as a birth, organ transplant, or chemotherapy treatment completion. 

The “Info Alley” prototype team is led by local business owner Sean Baker. This installation is “an interactive multimedia display that enhances an otherwise underutilized space by projecting live video, event listings, social media activity, and other relevant community information.”

Development of the final community prototype, “Multilingual Pedestrian Signage,” is led by Edgar Mtanous. This prototype is designed “to advocate for a collaborative, healthy, and vibrant community by forming stronger cultural and infrastructure links between Rochester, its citizens, and visitors.”

All three prototypes were unveiled on October 17th as part of DMC’s 2018 Annual Meeting. The installations will be on display in the Peace Plaza for thirty days.

New Childcare Center Hosts Open House Today!

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Stewartville, MN (Wednesday, October 24, 2018) – Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center, LLC, a newly constructed childcare center in Stewartville with capacity for 99 children, will be opening its doors next week. The Center is holding an open house to showcase their progress to the public for the first time on Thursday. The open house details are included here: 

When:  Thursday, October 25, 2018

Time:    4 p.m. - 7 p.m.

Where: 200 Schumann Drive NW, Stewartville, MN

Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center is hosting this open house to help families understand the significant features and services offered by their facility and talented team of caring professionals.  The open house will include tours of the premises and light refreshments. 

“Now that construction is completed, we are ready to start inspiring life-long learning in all of our children,” said owner Krystal Campbell. “We’re excited to welcome the public in to experience how we plan to celebrate and the uniqueness of all of the children we will serve!”

This open house is free to attend and is open to the public.

About Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center, LLC

Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center, LLC is family owned and operated by Krystal and Patrick Campbell.

The center focuses on the provision of a safe, nurturing, and developmentally appropriate environment for children from six weeks to age twelve. An emphasis is placed on the value and uniqueness of each child that is served.

As caregivers and educators, the team at Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center strives to promote each child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. Their programs plant seeds of knowledge in every child to inspire life-long learning.

For more information about Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center, please visit www.sprouts-childcare.com

#Emerge Episode 22 with Janessa Nickell

Today on #Emerge we sit down with Portland native and current Rochester resident Janessa Nickell. Janessa is a business strategist turned entrepreneur who also formerly trained for Olympic weight lifting. Janessa recently launched her entrepreneurial vision with her brand-new business Sacred Circle, which she runs in her home in southwest Rochester. Sacred Circle is a space for people to learn, connect with like-minded individuals, and grow while understanding more about themselves through introspection and reflection.

“On paper it seemed like I had my stuff together. I was pretty successful by a lot of measurements. I was also incredibly burned out and tired.” -Janessa Nickell, Founder of Sacred Circle

Where Are They Now? Escape Challenge Rochester

 Photo courtesy of Escape Challenge Rochester.

Photo courtesy of Escape Challenge Rochester.

After first telling their story one year ago, today we check back in with family-owned business Escape Challenge Rochester. Escape Challenge is this city’s first locked room experience, where teams search for clues and solve puzzles to “escape” from the room in sixty minutes or less. The first Escape Challenge location was opened in downtown Rochester by mother and son team Nathan and Cindy Schroeder in 2015, with a second location in northwest Rochester opening one year later.

 Since we last spoke in fall 2017, two additional challenges have been added to the northwest location, while all the challenges were discontinued at the downtown Escape Challenge. 

“This was always part of the plan when we took on the lease at the north location,” explained Nathan Schroeder. “Escape rooms don’t have any replay value. After a person has done a challenge, they would never come back and do the same one again.” 

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The original Escape Challenge downtown location, Schroeder explained, was smaller and more difficult to remodel, shifting the focus of the business to their current northwest Rochester location.

Escape Challenge has experienced a large increase in the amount of team building activities taking place at their current building. Now, they’ve added a meeting room to accommodate this need. The business can also facilitate large groups of up to forty-five people simultaneously performing challenges with the increased number of themed escape rooms at their northwest location.

Currently, Escape Challenge is in the final phase of construction in their current building.

“That doesn’t seem like much to some businesses, but we are a small business run by a mother and son. We built our business entirely on a bootstrap model since we started three years ago,” Schroeder explained. 

Once construction is finally complete, Escape Challenge will enter into a new phase of the business, where they can focus on enhancing the customer experience and capturing new market segments.

The business is focused on a sales and marketing push over the next year to attract more customers during the week days and to get more people through their doors who have yet to experience an escape room.

Escape Challenge has made it this far, Schroeder explained, by word-of-mouth and through providing “an amazing experience for every customer each time.” To capture more of the market and fill up time slots, Schroeder said the business will need to be more proactive with their sales efforts.