Tracking Walker Use and Enhancing K-12 Science Education- the Latest 1 Million Cups Rochester


Two early stage startups told their story at this month’s 1 Million Cups Rochester: Grand Forks, North Dakota company WalkSmart and Rochester-based startup MindTech.


About MindTech

This startup is led by Area 10 Labs lead engineer Chad Attlesey, software developer Pete Wall, and experience designer AJ Montpetit. The concept was originally developed by Area 10 engineer Adam Salmi.

“We want to inspire first person, personal experiences in education and learning. We want to inspire [kids] to want to learn,” explained Attlesey.

To achieve these goals, MindTech is developing a microscope for everyone, a personal learning tool they hope could be distributed to each K-12 student at the start of every school year. This rugged, high-powered microscope is highly portable, allowing kids to continue to learn outside of the classroom.

“[This microscope] is not a toy, but it’s designed to be used and abused,” Attlesey said.

The device is highly capable. It has data storage capacity and captures 1080p video. It is easily stacked and stored and can be color customized.

The MindTech team aims to get this first product into the hands of the 55M K-12 students in the U.S., a potential $5B market. They currently have microscopes in production and are partnering with the science education non-profit InSciEd Out, which has local and global reach.

The team aims to get the microscopes to a $100 price point with large volume production and sales.

About WalkSmart

WalkSmart, led by entrepreneur Peter Chamberlain, is developing a tool to foster “fitness, safety, and health for walker users.”

Falls cost the healthcare system about $34B each year and are the leading cause of fatal injury among older adults. Furthermore, adults who use walkers are four times more susceptible to falls than non-walker users, with seventy-five percent of these falls occurring when the person is not using their walker.

Currently, there are about 3M walker users in the U.S., said Chamberlain, which are evenly split between residing at home and in assisted living facilities.

His product, WalkSmart, aims to reduce falls, hospitalization, and healthcare costs with the first-ever smart walker attachment. WalkSmart discretely snaps onto the wheel of the walker and records data as it rotates. The data is fed into the cloud and can be accessed by mobile and web applications.

Multiple caregivers- who are typically family members- can link to each account to monitor fitness and receive safety alerts for their loved one. Caregivers can access WalkSmart data directly from an app to receive real time information, such as the last time their loved one walked with their walker and their historic walking data. Users can also obtain customized push notifications from the system, altering them if there is no morning activity from their loved one, for example.

Along with these alerts, WalkSmart also gives positive reinforcement messages to the user if they met daily fitness goals. Chamberlain is also developing a wearable device that goes directly on the user’s shoe and sends alerts if they are walking without their walker.

WalkSmart is currently available as a $15/month subscription model. Three healthcare facilities, two paying customers, and Chamberlain’s family testers are currently using the system.


About 1 Million Cups Rochester

1 Million Cups is a free, national education program that takes place in over 160 different communities across the United States to support entrepreneurship. 1 Million Cups Rochester occurs on the first Wednesday of every month at 9AM at the Bleu Duck Kitchen. The next 1 Million Cups Rochester will be held Wednesday, January 3rd.  

Rochester Rising Launches Fall Membership Drive To Continue To Amplify The Stories of Rochester Entrepreneurs

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This week we’re running our Fall Membership Drive to help keep Rochester Rising a part of this community. Rochester Rising is an online news site that amplifies stories of entrepreneurs in Rochester, Minnesota. There are, of course, other online media platforms in town. What differentiates Rochester Rising is that we are entrepreneur-centric, focusing in on the person and how they built, and are building, their business in Rochester and the surrounding area. We produce several articles and one podcast each week and have started to dabble in some video content to tell these stories and showcase the culture and diversity of the entrepreneurial community in Rochester.

Rochester Rising was launched last July to fill a real gap in the community. We had innovation springing up all over Rochester, but no one was really talking about it.

There are multiple reasons why this is the perfect time to tell these stories. Foremost, they show that we do have risk takers in this city. Rochester is perceived as a conservative, risk-averse culture centered around one industry, with any innovation occurring in biotech or healthcare. Those of us engaged in the entrepreneurial community here know that’s not the full picture.

During the seventeen months that Rochester Rising has existed, we’ve told the stories of 110 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.

Right now, we also have a unique opportunity in Rochester with Destination Medical Center, a $5.6B economic development initiative to make the city a global destination for health and wellness. Whatever occurs with these developments, they will cause unprecedented change to this city over the next couple decades. Right now, it’s a unique time to launch a business in this city and begin to gain the attention of talent looking to this area.

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.

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.

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Over the past year, we’ve held events to connect and engage the entrepreneurial community, including our first birthday party in July and several women-focused business events. 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 will be updated every year. In October, we self-published our first ever print magazine to share these stories in a different way.

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

Last November we launched a sustaining membership drive to do exactly that, help to make Rochester Rising a lasting part of the community to continue to tell these stories. Our sustaining memberships are run through the crowdfunding platform Patreon. This method is a little bit different than crowdfunding through Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Patreon campaigns are on-going, where patrons give a monthly contribution to fuel a creative project.

Through Patreon, our sustaining members can give anything from $1 to $25 each month and receive a mix of online-only and tangible rewards, like tote bags and mugs. If you’re not ready or interested in a monthly contribution, one time donations are also highly appreciated.

Why should you care? Why do we need to run a crowdfunding campaign?

Foremost, you get some cool rewards for contributing to this campaign. There is no other way to score a Rochester Rising mug. We also offer some heavily discounted advertising to sustaining members. If you read the stories regularly, watch the videos, and listen in to the podcasts, hopefully you see the value in having something like this continue in the city.

As many of you probably know, Rochester Rising is one person, myself. This is my main job. I do all the writing, recording, producing, social media management, business development, sales, and event management. Many of you readers are solo entrepreneurs and know this struggle first hand. Sustaining memberships have been essential to allow me more time to create content, events, and community. They also reduce our dependency on advertising and sponsorship on this website and podcast.

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

Fourth Walleye Tank Business Pitch Competition Provides Platform For Life Science Entrepreneurs


This past Friday, the fourth Walleye Tank- a Minnesota business pitch competition- took place on the Mayo Clinic campus, gathering together entrepreneurs, investors, educators, and community members to provide a platform for the state’s life science entrepreneurs. Two Rochester startups- Brazen and Liver Cell Therapies- walked away as divisional winners.

Life science businesses at all stages of development compete in Walleye Tank in one of four categories: Junior Angler, Midlevel Reeler, Professional, and Bait Shop. The Junior Angler student teams enter the competition through an entrepreneurial course at Mayo Clinic or via the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. The rest of the competitors join “the tank” through an open submission process.

This year, startups participated from Rochester, the Twin Cities, Madison, and Jacksonville, Florida.

During the competition Junior Angler, Reeler, and Professional Division participants delivered 120 pitches to a panel of Walleyes, highly experienced local entrepreneurs and investors, to win a variety of prizes.

This year’s Walleye panel included: Wade Beavers, co-founder and CEO of DoApp; Julie Henry, Enterprise IP Contract Manager in the Department of Business Development with Mayo Clinic Ventures; John Santini, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Vergent Bioscience; Christine Beech, Executive Director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota; Perry Hackett, co-founder of Recombinetics; Carla Pavone, Program Director of Minnesota Innovation Corps; and Fernando Bazan, CTO of BioTechne.

Bait Shop entrants pitched directly to entrepreneurs at the event to connect these innovators to the resources they need. Participants in this division included Collider Coworking, Rochester Rising, Rochester Area Economic Development Inc., Fredrikson & Byron, and Destination Medical Center.

Brazen and Electronic Intrathecal Guidance startups tied to win the Junior Angler division, raking in $10K toward their projects from the brand-new Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship.

Brazen, a diagnostic for detecting contact sports-related brain injury, is being developed by a team of Mayo Clinic students. Current on-field brain injury assessment techniques can be subjective and mainly detect only significant brain trauma, explained the Brazen team. Instead, this startup is developing a small, portable device that gages eye movement, a symptom known to display asymptomatic brain injury. This tool will permit rapid assessment of brain trauma and prevent further injury. The team is currently developing an algorithm to support their concept. Their first target market are high school athletes.

Electronic Intrathecal Guidance is a Jacksonville, Florida startup developing an improved method for spinal tapping. About 400K spinal taps are performed in the United States each year, which are often done blindly at the patient bedside and have a high failure rate. When a spinal tap is unsuccessful, the patient is often brought to radiology to perform the procedure under X-ray guidance, exposing the patient to radiation, disrupting workflow, and resulting in $500 in extra healthcare costs. Dr. Vivek Gupta and his team are developing a technique using electronic guidance to improve the spinal tap procedure right at the bedside, without any imaging needed. His method detects changes in impedance- monitored through a patch electrode- to guide the spinal needle through tissue and cerebrospinal fluid. The whole system costs between $5-10 to produce; Gupta estimates they will sell for $25-30, creating a $1.2M market in the United States alone.

University of Minnesota startup Nominal Impedance also participated in the Junior Angler Division.

Jacksonville-based small business Concepts by Harshman won the Reeler Division, earning assistance in business development from the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship.

This startup, built by surgical assistant Tim Harshman, offers modern solutions to the retractor. 48M surgical procedures are performed each year, according to Harshman, all of which require the use of a retractor. This piece of equipment separates the edges of a surgical incision, providing exposure and access to internal organs, tissues, and cavities. Retractors have seen little recent innovation. The current models on the market, Harshman said, are cumbersome and uncomfortable to hold for the extended periods of time required for a surgery. Every time a surgical assistant must change hands, exposure is lost for the physician and the surgery is slightly prolonged. Harshman is developing the Harshman Handle and Harshman Retractor- which touts an improved toe designed compared to current retractors- to reduce surgical assistant fatigue, reduce retractor slips, and lengthen exposure time for physicians to make surgeries more efficient.

Startups Soundly and Thorx also participated in the Reeler Division.

Rochester startup MindTech won second place in the Professional, or incorporated company, Division, earning in-kind professional legal services from Fredrikson & Byron.

MindTech- led by local entrepreneurs Chad Attlesey, Pete Wall, and AJ Montpetit- is developing a “microscope for everyone” to help foster love of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) in children. The team aims for this “rugged microscope” to be distributed alongside iPads and Chromebooks during the school year. Highly portable, the device allows kids to discover in the classroom, at home, and outdoors. The microscope is also extremely capable; it magnifies up to 200X, is Wi-Fi enabled, and captures 1080p video.

Liver Cell Therapies was the overall grand prize winner, taking home $2K from Fredrikson & Byron as well as in-kind professional legal services, assistance from the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship, and a three-month full membership at Collider Coworking.

Dr. Scott Nyberg, a liver transplant surgeon at Mayo Clinic, and his team at Liver Cell Therapies are developing a liver support device to address liver failure, the seventh largest cause of death in the United States. The current solution to liver failure is organ transplant, which results in a major surgery and immunosuppression for the remainder of life. Instead, Nyberg and his team are developing the Mayo Spheri-Reservoir Bio-Artificial Liver, a support device that can hold 20-30% of a patient’s liver, helping the organ survive for days or weeks. This device can serve as bridge therapy for some patients, allowing time for the liver to heal and avoiding transplant completely. The team currently has a prototype and is raising $2M in funding to build a clinical grade device. The startup also has intellectual property for creating hepatocyte spheroids- or 3D globules of liver cells- through a rocking protocol. These spheroids can be used to treat liver failure outside of the patient.

Marvel Medtech, Thrivors, and Superior Medical Editing also participated in the Professional Division.

Congratulations to all the teams that pitched at Walleye Tank. Look for the next competition to roll out in spring 2018.

Five Rochester Health and Wellness Startups Honored by Minnesota Business Magazine


This month five Rochester businesses were honored by Minnesota Business Magazine as “Innovators in Health and Wellness” to celebrate local leadership.

Awards were given in sixteen different categories including: Startup, Software Web Application, Health and Wellness Campaign, Excellence in Facility Design, Health Care Executive, Medical Breakthrough, and Wellness Advocate.

Four Rochester businesses or startups were finalists in their respective categories and one local business came away as the overall winner in their division.

Charter House- Mayo Clinic Retirement Living was a finalist in the Health and Wellness Campaign Division.  Charter House is a senior living facility in downtown Rochester, operated by Mayo Clinic, that advocates for healthy aging.

Healthtech startup OneOme was a finalist in the Medical Breakthrough category. OneOme’s solution, called RightMed, is a gene panel that analyzes patient DNA to determine how an individual will respond to medications for a wide range of conditions. The company was co-founded by Troy Kopischke, a managing partner of the Twin Cities incubator Invenshure, and John Black, a consultant in the Division of Clinical Biochemistry and Immunology at Mayo Clinic.

Joselyn Raymundo, Founder at Rochester Home Infusion, was a finalist in the Emerging Leader category. Rochester Home Infusion is the only home infusion provider in southeastern Minnesota, providing many in-home therapies including anti-infective, immunoglobulin therapy, transplant therapy, and pain management.

Ambient Clinical Analytics was also a finalist in the Excellence in Data Analytics category. Ambient Clinical Analytics leverages Mayo Clinic technology in clinical decision support tools to lower healthcare costs and improve patient outcomes. This Rochester-based company is led by CEO and serial entrepreneur Al Berning.

Rochester startup Geneticure was the overall winner the Startup division. Geneticure takes the guessing out of hypertension drug treatment. This company developed a comprehensive panel of genes to analyze patient DNA and determine an individual’s response to certain drug treatments to tailor therapy. Geneticure was founded by Rochester natives and brothers Scott and Eric Snyder. University of Arizona genomics expert Ryan Sprissler and Mayo Clinic Professor of Medicine Thomas Olson are also on the Geneticure founding team.

Thoughts From Female Entrepreneurs: What It Means To Be A Woman In Business

As National Entrepreneurship Month ends, we wanted to focus on a specific portion of the innovation demographic: female entrepreneurs.

While women-owned businesses in the United States are fewer, smaller, and bring in less revenue on average than male-owned companies[1], they are steadily gaining traction. An estimated 11.3M businesses are owned by women in the United States.[2] These companies employ about 9M people, bringing in $1.6T of revenue. Women make up 47% of the national workforce, control 51% of U.S. personal wealth, and are the primary source of income in 40% of U.S. households[3].

In Minnesota, female entrepreneurship is on the rise. The number of businesses majority owned by women has increased ten-fold since 1972 to 157,821 companies in 2012, employing 182,229 workers and generating $24.6B in revenue., according to research by Minnesota Business Magazine, Tech.Co, American Express OPEN research, and the Survey of Business Owners. While gaining traction, women in business still have a long way to go. A 20% pay gap still exists in the U.S. between men and women. In 2014, only 10% of U.S. startups that received Series A funding had a female founder. Currently, only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs[4].

Rochester itself has at least one hundred female business owners operating in a wide range of industries including retail, hospitality, food, and tech. Here’s what some of these women had to say about being a woman in business.

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[2] American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report of 2016

[3] 2012 Survey of Business Owners from the U.S. Small Business Administration


Great Planes Aviation Gaining Traction with Rochester Flight School


Rochester resident Nick Fancher is taking the city into the skies. This lifelong aviation enthusiast and self-proclaimed “weekend warrior pilot” has recently launched his newest business, Great Planes Aviation, providing charter aircraft service and flight school instruction here in Rochester.

Fancher’s interest in flying was spurred quite accidentally. At ten years old, he hopped into the backseat of a small Cessna during a cousin’s flight lesson while the cousin learned how to perform steep turns in the plane. Instead of being terrified- the likely reaction of most people in this situation- Fancher said the experience caused him to fall in love with aviation.


Throughout his career, Fancher sold many “goofy” products, navigating through different sales and marketing positions. “I just love building solutions for clients,” he explained.

He worked through the ranks selling paint brushes and roller covers, even selling $40M a year of the products to Walmart. He operated in various positions at companies like Valspar Paints, Rubbermaid, and Moen, logging a lot of time on the road but soaking up business development knowledge as he chugged along. He even served as Vice President of Marketing for a tech firm and then ran his own consulting business, which he eventually sold off.

Throughout this portion of his life, Fancher still dabbled in aviation- he obtained his private pilot license in 1991- but often was pulled away by his career.

One day, he inadvertently stumbled across a jet company in the Twin Cities. Ever persistent, Fancher communicated with the business’s owner for over a year and a half, eventually running the sales team for the company. After staying with the jet business for close to four years, Fancher struck out on his own with his first company Private Jet Solutions, providing private jet chartering, ownership, acquisition, and management services.

For Fancher, the Private Jet Solutions business evolved organically. He started out brokering private jet trips for customers and made his first jet purchase after a request from a client. The jet management solution flowed naturally after that.

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“It certainly wasn’t, hey I’ve got this really well thought out plan and I just executed it flawlessly,” Fancher said. “I think it’s just being aware and keeping your eyes open and staying away from deals that are tempting and are probably bad. And then picking the spots that are really the right places to try and grow your business, where you can make money and be with the right client base.”

This mindset flavors business development at Great Planes Aviation as well. Fancher originally thought he would just try out the concept of a flight school in Rochester, not anticipating much of a market. He purchased a small aircraft to train students in, laughing with his wife that in the worst-case scenario, they would have a plane to fly.

“Now she’s laughing saying, ‘You couldn’t even fly it if you wanted because it’s so busy!’”

Interest in Fancher’s flight school has taken off. Currently, the school has twenty-four active pupils; three more aircraft have been added by Great Planes Aviation or by the students themselves to support training efforts.

“It’s going crazy. It’s doing way more than I ever thought it would do,” laughed Fancher.

Great Planes Aviation also provides a charter service, where Fancher functions as a broker and agent of the customer, contracts the appropriately-sized aircraft for the client from a trusted vendor, provides catering services or flight staff, and can even arrange for car service at the final destination.

Always looking for opportunity in the market, Fancher is developing an aircraft maintenance service as well through Great Planes Aviation to support general aviation and commercial airlines. Currently, no maintenance capabilities exist in Rochester. Even if something simple turns up during a routine walk-around, it can take three to four hours for a technician to arrive to service the aircraft.

Fancher also hopes to create an avionic shop through the business, providing service for aircraft radios and navigation equipment.

“We’re here. We’re going to keep our eyes wide open and we’re going to try to figure out where the next right fits are,” Fancher explained.

He sees an immense need evolving for general aviation service in Rochester, such as provided by Great Planes Aviation, as the DMC initiative takes hold. Often, people view private jet travel as wasteful, Fancher said. It’s certainly pricier than travel on commercial flights.

But what it does save on is time.


“Commercial airlines serve about five hundred airports in the United States. [In general aviation], we have access to just over five thousand. In general, when we’re taking somebody to a meeting, we’re usually within twelve to fifteen minutes of where they’re going,” Fancher explained.

This service is especially useful when doing business in non-hub markets. These private aircraft are like flying offices, equip with Wi-Fi, television, and even fax capabilities. A business can fly an entire team to a meeting, have face-to-face interactions with the customer, fly to three other meetings and do the same thing, and still be back in Rochester in time for dinner.

As more businesses pop up in Rochester to support the community’s needs and an increasing workforce is drawn to the city, Fancher says that general aviation will be necessary for people to expand their reach and do business while living here.

“And we’re positioning ourselves to try and support that,” he affirmed.

Now, Fancher and his team of four at Great Planes Aviation are exploring the depth and direction of their market in Rochester and placing their clients first, all while getting to perform a job that, to them, is more like a hobby.

“Nobody is having more fun than we are doing this,” Fancher said. “This is a blast. It’s so much fun to be around aviation.”

Local Entrepreneurs Honored at R.A.V.E. Event

Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week lead organizer Jamie Sundsbak holding the proclamation from Mayor Brede.

Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week lead organizer Jamie Sundsbak holding the proclamation from Mayor Brede.

The fifth annual Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week officially ended last night with the R.A.V.E. (Recognizing Awarding Valuing Entrepreneurs) event. This evening was hosted by Journey to Growth, Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. (RAEDI), and 504 Corporation.

Xavier Frigola, Director of Entrepreneurship with RAEDI, served as master of ceremonies at the event.  Frigola also runs RAEDI’s Economic Development Fund, which has invested in fifty local companies- 82% of which are women and/or minority owned- since its inception. Frigola also serves on the executive team for the newly launched Southeast Minnesota Capital Fund and is an organizer for Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week.

On Monday, Mayor Ardell Brede officially proclaimed it Entrepreneurship Week in Rochester to kick off this week-long celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation.

“What we do matters. It matters a lot,” said Frigola.

This year, Frigola, Collider Coworking Community Manager Jamie Sundsbak, and myself have been conducting an entrepreneurial census to accurately assess the innovation climate in Rochester.

“Back in 2012, we basically did not have technology-based startups,” Frigola explained.

Little money was being raised and few jobs were being created. Now, there are over fifty new companies in Rochester that have raised over $24M of capital in 2017 alone, creating seventy jobs.

“Our goal is to turn southeast Minnesota into an entrepreneurial center,” Frigola said, which will likely be a generational effort.

“This is what we’ve done in five years. Imagine what can happen over the next five or ten years, or even twenty,” he affirmed.

Three southeast Minnesota companies were recognized for their “will, determination, and drive” as the 2017 Outstanding R.A.V.E. Honorees: Licks Pill-Free Solutions, Sonex Health, and Envirolastech.

Licks Pill-Free Solutions, a pet product manufacturing company, is led by entrepreneur Amy Paris. The company creates all-natural pet supplements, such as goo-packets and gummies, for dogs and cats. Licks products have been stocked in PetSmart stores since 2014. Paris manufactures her products in Winona and is continuing to grow and expand the Licks product line.

Sonex Health provides a simple, non-invasive solution for carpal tunnel release surgery, minimizing nerve and blood vessel damage with their SX-One Microknife. The company built their first prototype in 2014 in a garage and had the first Sonex health procedure competed in February of this year. The business aims to spread into several key markets this year. Co-founders Aaron Keenan, Darryl Barnes, and Jay Smith accepted the award on behalf of Sonex Health.

Envirolastech manufactures brick, deck board, and pallet products using thermoplastic proprietary technology, turning trash into durable building materials. The company recently opened a new manufacturing plant in St. Charles to help propel their growth. Founder Paul Schmitt and Operations Manager Geno Wente accepted their award on behalf of Envirolastech.

For the second year in a row, a Lifetime Achievement Award was given to “honor and recognize those individuals that were entrepreneurs probably before we called them that,” explained Heather Holmes, Vice President of Marketing and Project Director at Journey to Growth.

This year the award was given to Mike Tuohy of Tuohy Furniture.

“[Mike] embodies the foresight, courage, and perseverance that’s required to build and sustain a successful manufacturing business in a dynamic industry,” said Joel Young, Chatfield City Clerk.  

In addition to running a business for decades, Tuohy is also a tireless volunteer, mentor, and leader in the Chatfield community.

In 1952, Tuohy began building furniture in his father’s basement; the father and son team purchased their first building in 1954 and began manufacturing church furniture. Tuohy bought the business from his father Joe in 1972, increased his workforce, and began building office furniture as a private label manufacturer. The family business has continued to expand over the years and was passed down to Tuohy’s sons Dan and Michael upon his retirement in 2001.

“I was lucky. As a senior in high school, I sat in graduation and they said, ‘Some of you have to stay home in Chatfield and create jobs here.’ And I thought, that’s a cold day in Chatfield,” Tuohy joked. “I decided well, here I am. Let’s do what we can do.”

He said as an entrepreneur you have an idea, but that idea always changes. Goal seeking is not a straight line, it twists and turns and often hits walls. He tells his sons, however, that entrepreneurship should be fun.

Succession plans are one of the most important aspects of any business, Tuohy explained. He has confidence in his sons and the job they are doing with his creation.


“If you plan well and you hand your business off to the people that own it, then it stays alive and it stays creating jobs,” he said.

The final award of the night was the R.A.V.E. Warrior award, recognizing individuals who “advocate, promote, and support area entrepreneurs” and bring awareness to the value of building the local economy.

I was extremely honored, shocked, and humbled to be the fourth ever recipient of this award for my work with Rochester Rising. I follow in the footsteps of some intrepid entrepreneurs including Xavier Frigola, Jamie Sundsbak, and Rachelle Oribio, Product Manager of Pilot Programs at Techstars, an accomplishment that I don’t take lightly.

Thank you to my peers who considered me worthy of this award, and especially thanks to Rachelle for creating this touching video for me.

Entrepreneurial Showcase Shines Light on Local Student Innovators

Byron High School students and entrepreneurs Maddie Harris and Maia Jorgensen.

Byron High School students and entrepreneurs Maddie Harris and Maia Jorgensen.

Last night, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and Rochester Rising held the first ever Student Entrepreneurial Showcase during Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week to shed light on products and services created by southeast Minnesota students from the high school to graduate level. The event took place at Saint Mary’s Cascade Meadow Wetlands and Environmental Science Center, a reclaimed native wetland area along Cascade Creek in northwest Rochester.

Five student teams participated from around the region.

Current John Marshall student Keerthi Manikonda talking about her mobile app, Via.

Current John Marshall student Keerthi Manikonda talking about her mobile app, Via.

The event centered around an open demo, a science fair type experience where teams set up shop at their respective tables, walked through how their product worked, and refined their pitch by interacting with the attendees.

The evening also served as a qualifying round for the Junior Angler, or student, division of Walleye Tank, a biannual Minnesota business pitch competition for companies at all stages of development. To qualify for the competition, teams gave live, 120-second formal presentations to an audience and pair of judges- Julie Henry, Enterprise Contract Manager at Mayo Clinic and Christine Beech, Director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Saint Mary’s- to move forward in the contest.

"This event helped to highlight just how many students here locally have a passion for being change makers and who see themselves as entrepreneurs. We make an investment in our collective future when we encourage this drive and create forums to showcase their talents," explained Beech.  "This next generation is going to accomplish great feats and we would be well served to come together as a community to support their efforts."

Keethri Manikonda, representing the teen entrepreneurs behind the mobile application Via, and the team of Maddie Harris and Maia Jorgensen of Byron High School won the “People’s Choice” awards for the favorite product among attendees.

Keith Kallmes of Superior Medical Editing.

Keith Kallmes of Superior Medical Editing.

Via is a mobile application created by teens, for teens to combat distracted driving. Manikonda is a current senior at John Marshall and is also participating in post-secondary coursework at the University of Minnesota-Rochester. Harris and Jorgensen are also creating a mobile application, called Volunteerium, to connect communities and link citizens with volunteer opportunities.

Two teams- Brazen and Superior Medical Editing- qualified for Walleye Tank and will participate in the final round on December 1st.

Brazen is a brain injury diagnostic tool to reduce brain trauma among football players and other contact sport athletes. This platform is being developed by Mayo Clinic student Jamie Aponte-Ortiz and Rochester resident Jeff Prussack.

Superior Medical Editing is a neuro-specific medical writing and editing service developed by Keith Kallmes, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and brother Kevin, a current law student at Duke University.

Students Matthew Mikall and Siham Abdi of Mayo High School also participated in the showcase. This intrepid pair are creating Project YOU, a digital project to amplify people’s stories and help them feel more confident speaking up and sharing their individuality.

This first Student Entrepreneurial Showcase offered just a small taste of the student entrepreneurial climate in southeastern Minnesota. The organizers hope to continue this event and gain even more traction during Global Entrepreneurship Week next year.

"The Student Entrepreneurial Showcase was yet another example that we are starting to see of entrepreneurs flourishing in Rochester,” said Jaime Sundsbak, Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week lead organizer. “I'm so proud of these students and look forward to helping them continue with their businesses."

Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week Keynote Speaker Encourages Community to "Be Weird"


Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week keynote speaker Scott Meyer shared two disruptive ideas with the entrepreneurial community to kick off this weeklong celebration of innovation: embrace your inner weirdness and make your own permission.

Meyer played a pivotal role as a community builder and activist in Brookings, South Dakota. He helped to launch TEDxBrookings, 1 Million Cups Brookings, and Creativity Week; Meyer also served on the Brookings City Council. He was awarded The South Dakota Spirit of Entrepreneurship, Top 40 Under 40 by Prairie Business Journal, and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in South Dakota.

Meyer spent years building up the innovation community in Brookings, a town of ~24,000 people. Throughout this time, he garnered his fair share of both successes and failures. But one thing has remained constant.

“The weirdness of this world really makes me feel excited,” Meyer explained.

With the pervasiveness and accessibility of the digital world today, power has shifted from suppliers to those who are aggregating products, services, events, and knowledge into one place, Meyer said. This change has made it easier than ever before to locate niche products or connect to people with very specific interests.

Today’s world, Meyer said, allows us to be exactly ourselves. “But are we willing to take that risk?” he asked.

To be our true, vibrant selves- both as individuals and as communities- Meyer said you need to exist on the edge to attract attention in today’s crowded society. You need to be weird.

“You don’t want to be the next anything. You need to be the first something,” he affirmed. “This is the benefit of being weird. People can actually find you. If you’re in the middle of something, you’re impossible to find.”

When we as a government, community, or business have some sort of platform, no matter how small, Meyer said we need to push people out into that spotlight to share big, wild ideas and create momentum within our communities.

He helped to launched TEDxBrookings, a local version of TED Talks to spread big ideas, to get all kinds of “weird” people in that city into the same room, showcase the local culture, and produce palpable energy in the community.

By creating this stage of TEDxBrookings, Meyer could elevate others into positions of power, placing them as local thought leaders and empowering them to go out and do bigger things.

1 Million Cups Brookings was later launched to create this platform on a more frequent basis in the city.

Meyer’s second lesson: you don’t need to ask permission to create something in your community. You don’t need to be an expert at something. If you want to do something or create something, just do it. Don’t wait for anybody else to do it for you or to authorize it.

“We don’t have to take permission. We can just make permission,” he explained.

To build momentum in their own community, Brookings simply proclaimed themselves the “Creative Capital of the North”. They didn’t ask anybody if they were indeed the most imaginative or original culture of people. There was nobody to ask; they just said that was the truth. The community took $200 and built a “Before I Die” wall so people could express their life long dreams. They launched Creativity Week to celebrate creatives in the city.

“Find a parade and just start marching in front of it,” Meyer said, and people will just start falling in line.

In the case of Brookings, that’s exactly what happened. Soon, folks were journeying to the city to learn about building community from these self-proclaimed experts.

Regardless of how the momentum began, Meyer said it got people excited enough to start taking risks and things just started to happen organically.

“But I’m here to tell you that we can make permission for ourselves,” he concluded. “If we have permission, we need to build the stage and push people into it. And the people that will shine in that spotlight are the weirdos.”

How to Build a Startup with Mayo Clinic Technology- Lessons Learned from Mayo Clinic Entrepreneurs


Last week the community received a sneak peek at Global Entrepreneurship Week with the second annual “Lessons Learned from Mayo Clinic Entrepreneurs”. This panel discussion, hosted by the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator, gave three entrepreneurial Mayo Clinic employees the opportunity to share their story and discuss lessons learned from building a startup with Mayo Clinic technology.

The panel included: Allan Dietz, Assistant Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic and Scientific Advisor at Mill Creek Life Sciences; Kah-Whye Peng, Professor of Oncology at Mayo Clinic and Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer at Imanis Life Sciences; and Karl Clark, Assistant Professor at Mayo Clinic, Technology Consultant at Recombinetics, and Chief Scientific Officer at Lifengine Technologies.

All three startups took very distinct paths to move their technology out of Mayo Clinic and turn it into a company.

Mill Creek Life Sciences, Dr. Dietz explained, had a unique and organic evolution.

“I’m an accidental entrepreneur. I never set out to be one,” he laughed.

From left to right: Karl Clark, Kah-Whye Peng, and Allan Dietz.

From left to right: Karl Clark, Kah-Whye Peng, and Allan Dietz.

Dietz was originally running a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facility within Mayo Clinic, developing cells as therapeutics. At the time, his lab was growing cells in media- a liquid that supplies cells with the nutrients and food they need to grow- and calf serum. However, this serum ultimately had to be removed for the cells to be used as therapeutics in patients.

To avoid this issue, Dietz’s lab searched for an FDA approved substitute for serum and stumbled across platelet lysate, a product derived from expired platelets originally donated for blood transfusions. His lab successfully substituted the platelet lysate for calf serum, developing the main product that Mill Creek sells today.

Use of this serum-free media organically gained a commercial customer and, consequently, needed to get out of the Clinic. Dietz took the Intellectual Property (IP) for the product and launched a Limited Liability Company (LLC) to move the product forward. Today, Mill Creek Life Sciences is located on the second floor of the Minnesota BioBusiness Center and will likely outgrow the space soon.

When Dietz first began the startup in 2012, he said there was “almost nothing” to support entrepreneurship or Mayo Clinic startups in Rochester. Over the past five years, he’s learned some key lessons about building biotech startups in Rochester.

“Don’t do it to get rich,” he joked. “Do it because you don’t have enough things going on in your life and you’re bored and you’re tired of watching Netflix.”

He quickly learned that the whole process of product development must go quickly. He advised seeking out experts who can supplement your own knowledge and finding trusted partners in line with your goals for the company that can help you move fast.

“If it’s a good idea, there are other people working on it,” he said.

Dietz said there also must be separation between your role as a founder in your startup and your responsibilities at Mayo Clinic; he said it’s not a great idea to do both and suggested that you’re better off focusing on the Mayo job or the startup to really succeed.

Imanis Life Sciences had a slightly similar path, but a bit of a different outcome. Imanis is a reporter gene imaging company that is developing a range of reagents and services to monitor the fate of cells and viruses in real-time, non-invasively, in animal models.

Since Imanis launched in 2012 as one of the first companies out of Mayo Clinic’s Employee Entrepreneur Program, Dr. Peng said the biotech community in Rochester has grown tremendously.

“Five years ago, it was really kind of lacking,” she explained.

In the early stages of the company, Peng said they struggled to find a wet lab space in Rochester to build their technology, an amenity that she said still does not really exist in the city. Imanis eventually found a home in the lobby level of the Minnesota BioBusiness Center.

“We could afford the cheapest place, which is a place with no windows,” she laughed.

Imanis was self-funded in the beginning stages by Peng and her business partner Dr. Stephen Russell, founder of sister company Vyriad. Two years after the company’s launch, Peng said they had to take larger capital investment to hire staff.

Now, the business is celebrating its five-year anniversary and has global reach. Imanis is currently focused on growing their brand and building their customer base.

Alongside the community in Rochester, the startup hopes to “build a solid foundation for a dynamic biotech industry in Rochester, because it can be done.” Creating such a community, Peng said, offers alternative career options for highly trained scientists and helps to create new industries.

Lifengine Technologies, conversely, is a very new company, launching just last year to manufacture and sell gene editing reagents, products that can very precisely modify the genome- or all the DNA content- of an organism. Dr. Clark said most of the first few months were spent just figuring out direction for the startup.

Clark’s time with Lifengine may be limited so far, but he spent years with two other gene editing companies, Discovery Genomics and Recombinetics, where he witnessed, first-hand, growth from startup to small business.

“The pathway that you think you’re on in the first year, is not the path you’ll be on in your third year,” he advised.

Instead of moving Lifengine into the BioBusiness Center, Clark instead took advantage of a brand-new program within Mayo, called “The Hatchery”. Using this concept, he rented vacant lab space within Mayo Clinic on a month-to-month contract, allowing Lifengine to churn forward with little upfront capital.

Lifengine has its first part-time employee and is currently in bootstrapping mode, where the company is seeking to fund itself without outside investment.

Although the three founders followed different paths, the startups all faced issues with raising capital and identifying qualified workforce.

As far as the funding goes, “The number one source of capital is you,” Dietz explained. To attract significant money from outside investors to fuel the business, investors look for founders to have some of their own skin in the game.

Moreover, if you need to significantly develop the technology within your company, it’s riskier. Expect that process to suck up more capital and be prepared to give more equity away.

Small business grants, such as those provided through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, are also available. These offer an attractive alternative capital option, especially for founders with a strong history in academia, and give away no equity. The process, however, is quite slow.

Attracting trained scientists to a startup can also be tricky, especially when you’re competing with benefit-rich employers like Mayo Clinic. Peng said Imanis de-risked a lot of payroll issues by hiring contractors; their full-time employees are mainly people on their scientific team. She said there are people interested in the technology and the draw of a startup, you just have to pay them more than what Mayo is offering.

Dietz said it’s not too difficult to attract scientists, but hiring on the business side is a struggle.

“The idea that Rochester itself will natively or organically grow a great biotech or entrepreneurial thing is really naïve,” he explained.

Recruitment of qualified talent, he believes, is a significant challenge faced by the city today.