Student Entrepreneurship

Press Release: Rochester Public Schools Girls Win $10,000 Prize in Minnesota Cup

Photo courtesy of Technovation[MN]. B.A.S.I.C. B.A.L.S.A students and professional mentors.

Photo courtesy of Technovation[MN]. B.A.S.I.C. B.A.L.S.A students and professional mentors.

MINNEAPOLIS -- A team of three middle school and two high school girls from Rochester Public Schools won the $10,000 Sunrise Banks prize in the 14th annual Minnesota Cup business startup competition held by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

The girls developed a cell phone app named Bridge that provides resources for immigrants to improve their quality of life in an unfamiliar community by helping them access banking and broader financial support.

The team, called B.A.S.I.C. B.A.L.S.A., is sponsored by the local chapter of the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) and the Rochester Public Schools (RPS) and developed its app in cooperation with a local nonprofit, the Diversity Council. 

This past May the girls first submitted their app at Minneapolis’ fifth annual Technovation “Appapalooza” meet, a competition for middle and high school girls that is part of a global program.  They ranked highest in the high school division and thus qualified automatically as a semifinalist for the Minnesota Cup.

In mid-2017 a different RPS high school team sponsored by the BDPA, called SKeMAS, became a first runner-up in the Technovation Challenge globally and was awarded $5,000 in scholarship money as a result.  One of the five B.A.S.I.C. B.A.L.S.A. girls was on a BDPA middle school team that was a Technovation qualifier at the Appapalooza in 2016.  In 2015, a team from Kasson-Mantorville Middle School was one of only four finalists in its division worldwide at the global Technovation finals held in San Francisco.  

The Minnesota Cup is the largest statewide startup competition in the country.  The SKeMAS team was a finalist in the 2017 Minnesota Cup youth division as well as in the Women-Led teams division where they competed against adult teams.  B.A.S.I.C. B.A.L.S.A. likewise competed against at adult teams for the Sunrise Banks prize.

Students on the B.A.S.I.C. B.A.L.S.A include: Audrey Whitney, Bailey Klote, Anjali Donthi, Alexandra Bancos, and Simran Sandhu. Professional mentors for the team included: Ginny McCright, Kris Whitney, Scott Klote, Gina Whitney, and Courtney Kramer.

Sunrise Banks:  As stated at https://sunrisebanks.com/about-us/who-we-are/, this financial institution “innovates in the financial services industry and strives for financial inclusion for all. Sunrise Banks is a family owned national chartered bank headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota and has a long history of serving inner city communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The bank's six branches are primarily located in the urban core of Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

What is Technovation[MN]? A 12-week program that connects professional mentors to all-girl teams to enable girls to dream up, design, and code mobile phone apps.  Coaches keep the teams on track with the support of a few professional mentors.  Each team of up to five girls develops a real-world combination of technical and entrepreneurial skills as they code an app and prepare to pitch their idea at Minnesota's statewide event in early May, the Appapalooza. Selected teams have the opportunity to advance and compete in the global Technovation Challenge, as did a middle school team from Kasson-Mantorville in 2015 (which also led to participating in the 2016 White House Science Fair).

Technovation was brought to Southeastern MN by Code Savvy, Technovation[MN], Preventice Technologies (Rochester office), and the former Rochester Area Math Science Partnership (RAMSP), now called STEM Forward; in the Rochester area Technovation has received financial support from IBM and the Mayo Clinic.

Five Rochester Girls Seeking to Advanced their Mobile App to Final Round of Minnesota Cup

B.A.S.I.C. BALSA Team. Back row (from left to right): Simran Sandhu, Anjali Donthi, and Alexandra Bancos. Front row (from left to right): Audrey Whitney and Bailey Klote. Photo courtesy of Technovation[MN],

B.A.S.I.C. BALSA Team. Back row (from left to right): Simran Sandhu, Anjali Donthi, and Alexandra Bancos. Front row (from left to right): Audrey Whitney and Bailey Klote. Photo courtesy of Technovation[MN],

Five Rochester middle and high school girls are aiming to improve quality of life with their mobile phone application called Bridge. Team B.A.S.I.C. BALSA- comprised of Anjali Donthi, Simran Sandhu, Audrey Whitney, Alexandra Bancos, and Bailey Klote- placed first in the senior division of a state-wide tech competition. The girls are now making their way through the semifinal round of Minnesota Cup as the new school year approaches.

Bridge helps immigrants, refugees, and visitors locate necessary resources within their new communities like food, shelter, educational resources, and places of worship.

“Most of the members of our team, we have family who are immigrants. So that is how we chose to make an app that solved problems that immigrants faced,” explained Donthi, an incoming tenth grader at Century High School.

Users can search for resources within Bridge using six different languages including English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, and Hindi. Overall, the app aims to improve quality of life. The team hopes to scale Bridge to benefit other communities beyond Rochester.

The Bridge app was coded over fifteen weeks this past school year- primarily by sixth grader Whitney- as part of the Technovation Challenge. Technovation is a global competition that encourages girls to solve problems they encounter in their everyday lives with technology. Throughout the challenge, teams of five work with volunteer mentors to create mobile app “startups”; many teams have no coding experience prior to the competition.

Technovation has proven success of increasing young girls’ interest in coding fields. Fifty-eight percent of Technovation alumni enroll in additional coding classes after the competition. Twenty-six percent of alumni major in computer science in college, compared to the 0.4% national average of first year female computer science majors.

This year, ~19,000 young girls registered for the Technovation Challenge.

The Minnesota branch of the competition, called Technovation[MN], culminated in a statewide competition called Appapalooza in May, where teams showcased their mobile technology and business plan, which included marketing and financial strategies. This year, a record high seventy-five teams competed in Appapalooza, with nine teams moving on to the semi-final round of the global competition.

B.A.S.I.C. BALSA walked away from the state competition as the Senior Division winner, advancing to the Technovation semi-finals. Although their journey with Technovation this season ended in the semi-finals, the team spent the summer refining their business plan and pitch to compete in the Youth Division of Minnesota Cup, the largest statewide business pitch competition in the nation. The girls submitted their application to Minnesota Cup last week and learn if they will advance to the final round on August 21st.

Now, B.A.S.I.C. BALSA is refining their technology, building category filters for optimized searches, and adding additional languages to their app. The girls plan to ultimately turn over ownership of Bridge to Rochester’s Diversity Council for long term maintenance and support.

Overall, the girls of B.A.S.I.C. BALSA said they enjoyed the Technovation experience and plan to continue with the program throughout their middle and high school careers. In addition to learning coding, the competition also taught them teamwork, business development, and other valuable skill sets.

Plus, they just had a good time.

“[Technovation] is really fun and [other girls] should do it because it can be a really good learning experience. If you never ever thought of doing it and you try, maybe you’ll really like it and you can go into the field of coding someday,” said Klote.

Teams from Rochester and southeast Minnesota have historically performed well in the Technovation Challenge. Three years ago, a team of seventh graders from Kasson-Mantorville Middle School were one of four teams that qualified to compete in the Technovation finals in San Francisco. Last year, Rochester high school team SKeMAs finished as runners up in the global semi-final round for their app to minimize distracted driving.

Local Student on Route to be National Finalist in Doodle 4 Google Contest

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John Marshall student Rebecca Frei’s doodle is set to have global reach. Frei is one of only fifty-three students to become a State and Territory Finalist in the annual Doodle 4 Google student contest. The public has until 12AM PDT on May 18th (tomorrow) to vote Frei’s doodle through to make her a National Finalist, earning her a $5,000 college scholarship and a trip to Google Headquarters in California.

The Doodle 4 Google contest has taken place yearly since 2008. The program is open to students grades K-12; participants compete in K-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, or 10-12 grade groups. Frei is contending in the grades 10-12 division.

Doodles are drawings featured on the Google.com page that are “meant to surprise and delight people,” according to Google. This year’s Doodle 4 Google contest centered around the question “What Inspires Me?”.

Frei was already chosen as a State and Territory Finalist based on the artistic merit, creativity, and theme communication of her doodle, allowing her drawing to be featured in the Doodle 4 Google gallery. This year’s guest judges for the contest included the likes of Ty Burrell, Carlos Beltran, and Laurie Hernandez.

Public voting, which ends tomorrow, could allow Frei to become one of only five National Finalists. From this pool, one winner will then be chosen, awarding the student a $30,000 college scholarship and a $50,000 tech package for their school.

Frei’s doodle was inspired by her Great Grandma Blennie, who Frei depicts playing a banjolele in the bed of the family’s garden truck. In her submission, Frei explained that Great Grandma Blennie uplifted everyone with whom she interacted. Frei says she feels connected with her grandmother while playing the banjolele herself and aims to make her grandmother proud.

The public can vote for Frei’s design, and view the other doodle submissions, by clicking here. Voting will close at 12AM on May 18th. 

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.

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."

Student Entrepreneurs: Apply to Demo your Product or Service during Rochester's Global Entrepreneurship Week

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Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and Rochester Rising are organizing the first ever Student Entrepreneurial Showcase during this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week in Rochester. The event will be held on Thursday November 16th from 6-8PM at Saint Mary’s Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Environmental Science Center.

This event will be a live demo night, featuring products and services created by students in Southeast Minnesota. At the event, student teams will have the opportunity to showcase how their product or service works to solve a specific problem to a gathered community of peers, entrepreneurs, and engaged members of the Southeast Minnesota startup community. Products or services will be chosen for the event based on their ability to create an engaging, live demonstration and the likelihood that the product or service will be functional by November 16, 2017. Application is not limited to science or tech products or services. Products or services can also be web-based.

A cash prize will be available.

All applicants must be a current primary, middle, or high school student or be enrolled in a college, university, or higher education program. Priority will be given to students in Southeast Minnesota.

Interested student teams should fill out this short application to apply. The application will close on November 2, 2017.

Rochester Teen Startup Moves on to Final Round of Minnesota Cup

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Five Rochester teens will represent the city as one of only twenty-four startups remaining in the Minnesota Cup venture competition.  This team of all female students is developing an app, called Via, that limits distracted driving. They are the only startup from Olmsted County left standing in the seven-month long competition.

Minnesota Cup, the largest state-wide startup competition in the United States, is in its thirteenth year of operation. Since its inception, this annual event has supported over 13K Minnesotan entrepreneurs across ninety-three percent of all Minnesota counties, awarding over $2M in seed capital. Minnesota Cup finalists have gone on to raise over $300M to create jobs within the state.

The Minnesota Cup competition begins in late March, where startups with less than $1M in annual revenue can enter one of eight different categories: Energy/CleanTech/Water, Food/Ag/Beverage, General, HighTech, Impact Ventures, Life Science/HealthIT, Student, and Youth Divisions.

Division semifinalists are announced in late May; finalists in each division are revealed at the end of August.

This year, 520 startups entered Minnesota Cup, competing for over $450K in seed money. In addition to capital, participating startups also received business plan feedback, networking opportunities, and mentorship from leaders within their industry.

The Rochester team “SKeMAs” is one of three startups remaining in the Youth Division. The women of “SKeMAs”-Sophia Fulton, Stela Baltic, Anushri Walimbe, Maurine Macharia, and Keerthi Manikonda- are developing a mobile app called Via to mitigate distracted driving among their peers. They hope to add additional layers of complexity as the product matures.

Green Garden Bakery and Peacebunny Island are the two additional finalists in the Youth Division. Green Garden Bakery grows urban vegetables and prepares them into healthy desserts for their community. Peacebunny Island is creating a rabbit sanctuary for Angoras and other rare breeds used in the fur industry. The rabbits are given gentle haircuts four times a year and the fur is spun into “HEARTfelt” humane, eco-friendly yarn.

This year’s Minnesota Cup will culminate in a free, inclusive event on October 9th at the McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis where the overall Grand Prize winner will be announced.

Last year, the Life Science/Health IT startup Stemonix won the entire competition. Stemonix creates physiologically relevant plates of microtissue for drug discovery and development, including a micoBrain and microHeart platform. 

Dessa- a rapper, poet, and member of the Minneapolis based hip-hop group Doomtree- will emcee the Minnesota Cup Grand Prize Ceremony this October.

Five Rochester Teens Hoping to Advance Through Semifinal Round of Minnesota Cup

SKeMAs team. From left to right: Stela Baltic, Sophia Fulton, Anushri Walimbe, Maurine Macharia, and Keerthi Manikonda.

SKeMAs team. From left to right: Stela Baltic, Sophia Fulton, Anushri Walimbe, Maurine Macharia, and Keerthi Manikonda.

“SKeMAs”- a team of five Rochester-area students- are developing an app, called Via, to limit distracted driving among teens. This group of young women advanced all the way to the semifinal round of the global tech competition Technovation a few months ago. Now, they are working their way through the Youth Division of Minnesota Cup, making the roads safer one driver at a time.

Stela Baltic, Sophia Fulton, Maurine Macharia, Keerthi Manikonda, and Anushri Walimbe saw a problem affecting their peers and everyone around them. The girls originally designed an app, called Via, to log hours while training for a driving permit. However, they soon recognized a larger problem than missed driving hours: teenage distracted driving.

“We’re all teens ourselves and we all run these super busy lives, where we’re constantly communicating with different people,” Fulton explained. “It’s so easy to get caught up and start texting while you’re driving or even looking at your messages while you’re driving.”

To combat this issue, the team expanded the functionality of their mobile app Via to lower distracted driving rates among teens, and adults, to make the roads a little bit safer.

Once installed, Via reminds users to mute all notifications while driving. The app sends automated replies to anyone texting the user while they are driving and can even notify the text-er once the car has reached its destination.

Now, the girls are beefing up some features of Via to enable multiple user accounts and other capabilities. They hope to ultimately link the app to the on-board diagnostic system of the car.

“If we can get the phone on the same level as the car itself, that can allow parents to monitor driving habits as well,” explained Manikonda.

Such a connection could enable speed threshold monitoring, where parents could be alerted when their teen accelerates over a set speed limit. It could also allow for supervision of braking and reckless driving behaviors.

The team began building the app last summer and homed in their concept during the twelve-week long Technovation Challenge. This international competition encourages teams of four to five girls create, design, and build mobile apps to solve real world problems to inspire technology, entrepreneurship, and STEM careers in young women.

Since 2010, ten thousand girls from seventy-eight countries have participated in the tech challenge.

The Minnesota branch of the program, Technovation[MN], culminated in a state-wide pitch event, called Appaplooza, on May 7th at the Minneapolis Convention Center. This year, approximately two hundred fifty girls participated.

Two high school and six middle school teams advanced from Appaplooza to the semifinal round of the global Technovation competition, including the SKeMAs team. In the end, SKeMAs finished as runners up in the world for their category in this round.

Although the five girls on SKeMAs got to Technovation through different paths, it was clear that the experience was unforgettable to them all. Some, like Fulton, were always interested in entrepreneurship and saw the competition as an opportunity. Others, like Manikonda, were coerced into it.

However, “Technovation,” Baltic explained, “is all about expanding your horizons.”

As part of the competition, the girls learned to communicate and function as a team. Some learned how to code. And some learned about business development. They also connected with and got input from leaders in the community, including Techstars Product Manager Rachelle Oribio.

They also, most importantly, learned how to support other young women, friend or foe.

“You see all these unique, brilliant ideas coming from girls your age. And it just reminds you that we’re just as capable as boys of helping to change the world,” summed up Baltic.

Now, the team is in the middle of the semifinal round of the Minnesota Cup- the largest statewide startup competition in the United States. They’re working to make Via just a little bit better than it was during Technovation.

“For Technovation, they were really big on idea. Are you actually helping the community and are you using your…coding skills to do that?” Manikonda explained. “Minnesota Cup is all about the actual entrepreneurship.”

She said the team is a bit inexperienced in navigating the business side of things, whereas some of their competitors already have a viable product with sales.

Plus, they’ve run into a major competitor along the way: Apple. In June, a beta version of iOS 11 launched with a “Do Not Disturb While Driving Mode” to block texts, incoming calls, and notifications while the car is in motion.

However, the team doesn’t seem to be all that discouraged.

“One of our mentors, Rachelle [Oribio] spoke to us about this,” Walimbe said. She told the girls they just had to be better and one step closer than the competition to succeed.

Manikonda said the team is expanding some capabilities of the app that Apple doesn’t have yet and believes that integrating changes into the actual phone operating system itself is limiting.

“As app developers, I feel that we can take in feedback and get new updates out on the app quicker than software updates could do the job,” she explained.

With Apple looming on the horizon, the team is laser focused on Minnesota Cup and seeing where that experience can take them. They’ll learn if they advance to the final round this Friday.

Rochester Youth Startup Via Moves on to Semifinal Round of Minnesota Cup Business Competition

The Minnesota Cup, the largest statewide startup competition in the United States, moved into the semifinal round yesterday. This year’s competition will award over $450,000 in seed funding to emerging businesses across eight different divisions. One entrant from Olmsted County, the minority and women-led tech startup Via, moves on into the Minnesota Cup semifinal round in the Youth Division.

This year’s Minnesota Cup competition began in late March with an application launch party and culminates in a final awards event on October 9th at the McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis.

This is the 13th year of the competition.

Since its inception, Minnesota Cup has drawn in over 12,000 Minnesota-based startup participants from 93% of Minnesota counties. Finalists have raised over $230M since 2005.

Any startup in Minnesota with less than $1M in annual revenue can enter the Minnesota Cup competition in eight different divisions: Food/Ag/Bev, General, High Tech, Energy/Clean Tech/Water, Impact Ventures, Life science/HealthIT, Student (anyone enrolled in graduate or undergraduate school between the ages of 19-30), and Youth (anyone under 18 years of age).

Besides gaining access to seed capital, throughout the Minnesota Cup competition startups receive input on their business plan, gain access to mentorship opportunities with key industry leaders, and receive media coverage.

On May 30th, the eighty semifinalists for the 2017 competition were announced, ten from each division. Over the next seven weeks, the semifinalists will be paired with mentors, tweak their business plans, and compete for the top spot in their respective divisions.

Each divisional winner will receive $30,000 in seed capital and move on for the chance to win the $50,000 grand prize. The youth division leader will be awarded $20,000 and will also move on in the competition.

This year, both student and professional division winners in Walleye Tank, a life science business pitch competition developed in Rochester, gained automatic entry as life science division semifinalists. Look for the Twin Cities-based startups Dolore Biotechnology and Dose Health as Minnesota Cup progresses.

In Olmsted County, one entrant moved on to the semifinal round, the Youth Division tech startup Via.

Via is addressing the prevalent health issue of distracted driving from texting, especially among teens. Via is developing an easy to use app that places phones into “driving mode” when the user is operating a vehicle to mute notifications and avoid unnecessary health risks.

Rochester High School Students Confront Gender Bias in Rochester Home Charter Rule

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This Tuesday, a group of four high school students challenged the Rochester Charter Commission members to remove gender specific words from the Rochester Home Charter Rule, a document that establishes the manner by with the city is governed. The students observed close to one hundred instances of male-specific language in the charter, which they say promotes gender bias and perpetuates the male point of view.

Gender bias and gender roles, as the student group explained, are pervasive in today’s society, whether we are cognizant of it or not. Even from a young age the colors we wear, toys we play with, and even the careers we choose are based on- often subliminal- gender roles. Language, the group explained, plays a large part in influencing the perception of gender roles. They documented nearly one hundred examples of male-specific language in the nineteen chapters  of the Rochester Home Charter Rule, where the pronouns “he/him” were used to describe positions of power in government like the mayor, city council members, and city officials.

“I assumed in today’s more progressive society, older generations had already driven out all of the truly explicit examples of misogyny that thrived for centuries in American culture,” said Mayo High School student Leah Folpe. “The last place I expected to find archaic, male-dominated language was in the Rochester Home Charter Rule itself.”

Gender-specific language in the charter discourages women from entering politics, the students explained. The male pronouns used in the charter, they said, imply that the female point of view is not as important or is encompassed by male perception.

Section 2.01 Subdivision 3 of the Rochester Home Charter Rule is meant to diffuse any perceived gender bias in the charter stating, “In construing this charter, words and phrases in the masculine gender include the feminine and shall not indicate any bias as to sex.” Century High School student Martha Burket explained that this subdivision is not an effective strategy to eliminate discrimination in the charter “because it is founded in discriminatory ideas.”

Instead, the students shifted through the Rochester Home Charter, changing all gender-specific language to gender neutral language. They asked the Charter Commission members to adopt these modifications to the Rochester Home Charter Rule.

“These simple fixes make a huge difference in our perception of society as young women and society’s perception of us,” Mayo student Anna Kirkland explained.

“It’s true that changing the charter will not eliminate all this bias. But it is a small step. And a conglomeration of small steps can bring about an impactful weight of change,” said Burket.

The students challenged the Charter Commission leaders to take this action and give Rochester a chance to be a leader. Century High School student Alina Hyder said she sees Minnesota as an unbiased state, where people are treated equally. She said herself and her colleagues are “trying to show that Rochester is a gender neutral place.”

The student group was originally formed by Rochester resident Rose Anderson in response to gender-specific language she observed in the Rochester Home Charter Rule.

“And we’re all local high school students. So we’re about to go forward in our lives and see what we can do and hopefully make the world better,” said Kirkland.

Rochester Charter Committee member Fred Suhler was highly sympathetic to the cause. “From my perspective, I think it’s an issue that deserves respect. And I’m willing to respect your view on that,” he said.

Suhler thought the issue could be “easily resolved” by city attorney Terry Adkins. Assistant city attorney Dave Goslee agreed this was likely a simple process “to the extent that it’s just changing references” such as “he” to “the mayor.”

A motion was made that the city attorney uses the authority granted to the office to replace any gender specific words in the Rochester Home Charter Rule with gender neutral words. The motion passed unanimously.

IMPACT Program Connects Mayo Clinic with Minnesota Undergraduates to Create Innovative Ideas for Patient Care

IMPACT Symposium Participants. March 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of IMPACT Program.

IMPACT Symposium Participants. March 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of IMPACT Program.

The Mayo Clinic Innovative Minds Partnering to Advance Curative Therapies (IMPACT) Program seeks innovative solutions to pressing healthcare issues by partnering Mayo Clinic with Minnesota undergraduate students. Since its inception in 2014, the program has expanded in size and capability yearly. Founder and director Katie Campbell says the competition is a “platform that engages students in idea generation,” bringing fresh minds to issues that can directly impact patient care.

Katie Campbell has a passion for teaching. Midway through her PhD training in Molecular Pharmacology at Mayo Clinic, she was challenged by mentor Dr. Tim Nelson to create a program that would engage undergraduate students and integrate them into the innovation process at Mayo. The IMPACT Program developed as a direct result.

The IMPACT Program is a crowdsourcing competition with the goal to “encourage creative solutions to critical health questions through collaboration between Minnesota undergrads and Mayo Clinic.” Campbell sees the program as the first step in learning new concepts and generating ideas as an “innovative complement to the traditional research experience.”

During the competition, teams of two to four students select one of three narrowly defined challenge questions, which are directly applicable to patient health. The questions are, ideally, areas of active investigation at Mayo. Over the course of three months, students take a deep literature dive into their topic. By February, teams develop a three-page proposal describing their hypothesis to address their challenge question. A panel of judges ranks the submissions and selects the top groups for each question to give an oral presentation at the IMPACT Symposium in March.

All teams are invited to give a poster at the symposium regardless of where their proposal ranked, allowing students to interact with each other and gain conference experience as an undergrad.

The winning team for each challenge question is awarded $1,000 per student and offered a paid summer internship at Mayo, usually in a lab studying their challenge question. Silver and bronze winners receive plaques to hang in their home institutions.

Cash prizes are certainly a motivator to participate, but the students’ experiences and scientific contributions are the real value adds of the program. The IMPACT Program engages a fresh set of innovators, bringing potential solutions to biomedical issues from all different angles. The program may have strong value for rare disease research where there’s a “low cost to high yield investment opportunity to access a huge platform of innovative ideas for diseases with less national visibility or funding,” Campbell said.

Campbell hypothesizes that the competition increases student’s scientific confidence, helps them identify as valuable contributors to the scientific community, and hopefully encourages them into further science education. Over the course of the competition students research their challenge question so extensively, they become experts in that defined topic.

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“One of the things that comes up over and over again in student feedback is how surprised they are that Mayo Clinic values their ideas. I think they come to Mayo thinking they’ll be impressed by us. But we’re just as impressed by them, if not more,” she said.

Campbell wants to keep barriers of entry to the program as low as possible. No actual experiments are required for participation; students propose their hypotheses purely from literature analysis. “It’s much more accessible to smaller liberal arts schools and smaller community and technical colleges who might not have the capacity to do some of these research projects in the lab,” she explained.

The IMPACT Program first began in 2014, with 52 students participating from 4 Minnesota colleges. This year in the competition’s fourth iteration, 240 IMPACT students and 60 faculty mentors from 23 different private colleges and universities, state universities, and community and technical colleges in Minnesota participated.

Campbell says that funding has increased the capacity of the competition. In the early stages, she received an Endowment for Research Education Award from Mayo Clinic, bringing in $100,000 over two years. She was also awarded grant funding from Regenerative Medicine Minnesota to expand the program statewide. Now, she’s seeking funding from the National Science Foundation to expand the IMPACT Program nationally.

Photo courtesy of the IMPACT Program.

Photo courtesy of the IMPACT Program.

“Our goal is really to expand the program throughout the country and in doing so not only increase the visibility of education and research here at Mayo Clinic, but also tap into what I think is a huge potential audience of undergraduates who don’t think about [these issues] every day and begin posing these questions beyond the state limits,” she explained.

The IMPACT Program increases accessibility of Minnesota undergraduate students to Mayo Clinic regardless of their GPA, home institution, or major. Campbell has even had an IMPACT student take an internship at Mayo right after freshman year, something that’s rare through other programs at the clinic.

She also sees immense potential of the IMPACT Program to expand the visibility of Mayo Clinic beyond the reach of the local college and university system.

The IMPACT Symposium this year took place on March 18th. Challenge questions examined underlying causes of hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), effects of obesity and type 2 diabetes in increasing the risk of pancreatic cancer, or approaches in surgical residency programs to improve patient outcomes after inguinal hernia repair.

Winning teams included: Achai Biong, Vivian Ma, Brian Nguyen, and Kurt Schwieters (University of Minnesota-Rochester); Kaitlin Chrastek, Salar Kadhium, Jagneet Kaur, and Rupinder Kaur (Northwestern Health Sciences University); and Rebecca Martin, Kali Weiss, Jessica Pakonen, and Shannon Holder (St. Olaf College).

Student-Led Entrepreneurship in Medicine Interest Group Fosters Innovation in Mayo Medical Students

Mayo Clinic School of Medicine’s Entrepreneurship in Medicine Interest Group looks to bridge the gap between medical students, Mayo Clinic entrepreneur/physicians, and the Rochester innovation community. With the one year inception of the group on the horizon, the organizing team is looking for new ways to demonstrate the value of industry and develop skill sets in Mayo’s medical students to help bring their ideas to life.

Second year medical student and Entrepreneurship in Medicine Interest Group cofounder Claudia Gutierrez has seen firsthand how entrepreneurship can translate ideas into viable businesses or products. Gutierrez is a trained biomedical engineer and learned early on the importance of incorporating business into design.

While Gutierrez had seen organizations similar to the Entrepreneurship in Medicine Interest Group at other schools, nothing like it existed at Mayo. She and her cofounder, 7th year MD/PhD student John Scott, felt it was time for change. With faculty mentor Dr. Joaquim Garcia, they launched the group last year.

The mission of the Entrepreneurship in Medicine Interest Group, explains Gutierrez, is to “get rid of that ‘ick’ factor that a lot of medical students have toward industry.” She says these large companies are often portrayed as unethical giants, but are really the entities that bring new treatment options and medical devices into the clinic. She doesn’t want her own classmates to back away from potential interactions with industry due to preconceived notions.

In addition, she says that medical students often are not really exposed to entrepreneurship and business development during college. She learned herself that incorporating business with engineering was essential to understand and create viable, marketable products.

“You can have an amazing design. But if there’s no market for it or if it’s not affordable, you’re never going to bring that product to life and you’re not going to be able to improve whatever it is that you’re trying to improve,” she explained.

And Gutierrez would know. While studying at Drexel University in Philadelphia, she completed three six-month internships, gaining invaluable innovation experience. These experiences included a stint in a cancer bioengineering lab in Switzerland and a venture capital firm in Philadelphia. But perhaps her first internship made the largest impact. Gutierrez spent six months working in R&D at a small medical device company and experienced what life was like in an emerging business. Some days she would be designing software. Other days everyone in the company, including the CEO, would be slapping stickers on devices right before they went to clinical trial. She even got to travel with some of the senior engineers to Argentina as an interpreter.

“It helped me realize that while being an engineer and being able to design something is fascinating, being the physician that gets to test it and understands the limitation of the device, that was kind of the side I wanted to be on,” she said.

Like in engineering, Gutierrez sees similar trends in medicine, where a general understanding of how to move an idea from the research stage, into the clinic, and ultimately into a product or company is lacking.

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She hears stories in the news all the time about the rising costs of healthcare and other issues plaguing today’s medical industry.

“People are entering medical school with the intention of trying to fix those problems. And entrepreneurship and understanding what it’s like to work with a company or even start your own company, it’s just giving you another set of tools that you could potentially work with in the future,” she said.

To help Mayo medical students gain these tools, the group curates a list of Mayo Clinic events of interest to medical students. But more importantly, they hold their own monthly speaker series focused on the intersection of innovation, business, and medicine. This year’s talks included an in-depth look at patents. The group also hosted Kathy Bates, Senior Director of Laboratory Services at Mayo Clinic, and John Black, Co-Director of Mayo’s Personalized Genomics Laboratory.

The group also wants to introduce medical students to the local innovation industry. This starts by connecting with Mayo physicians who are working with industry or have started companies, to help dispel the myth that you can’t be both a doctor and a founder. Gutierrez also wants to partner with organizations within Mayo, like the Surgical Accelerator, with the hope to bring to life viable ideas developed by medical students.

She says the interest group is “trying to connect medical students not just with Mayo, but also with the Rochester community.” Students are drawn to Mayo from all over the world, but often have limited access to the city outside of the clinic. These interactions help them understand all that the ecosystem here has to offer.

While the original idea for the Entrepreneurship in Medicine Interest Group developed last June, Gutierrez and Scott recently added two first year medical students, Adeet McCoy and Elias Sayba, in leadership positions. Gutierrez says this has helped to make the project more fun and increased the impact.

She’s especially excited to bring another female into a leading role in the group. She says it’s easy for women to be dissuaded from these positions, especially in a tech culture that has a perceived domination by men.

“I think it’s really important with anything that has to do with innovation, or science, or whatever it may be, to have a good female presence,” she said.

Rochester Teen Empowers Youth Music Community with ROCKchester Festival

Photo courtesy of ROCKchester Festival.

Photo courtesy of ROCKchester Festival.

Teen musician Dylan Hilliker has ambitious dreams for the youth music community in Rochester. Last May, Hilliker launched an eight-hour music festival featuring local teen musicians, curated entirely by teens, called ROCKchester. The event brought in over 350 attendees in its inaugural year and will be back for the second edition this July.

Although he’s only eighteen-years-old, Dylan Hilliker has played music for most of his life. A native of Chapel Hill, he began playing the guitar at age seven. Shortly afterwards Hilliker discovered his true musical passion: drums. After his family moved to Rochester in 2008, Hilliker began taking lessons at Pure Rock Studios, a music education and entertainment facility in Rochester, back when owner Ryan Utterback was still teaching out of his garage. Hilliker’s love for music propelled him into his school’s jazz, pep, and marching bands, as well as the pit orchestra. He played in three teen bands in Rochester during middle and high school, releasing several EPs and full-length albums. This past fall, Hilliker headed off to college in Nashville to study Music Business. But even in this new music scene he continues to perform.

It’s fair to say that Hilliker is an expert on the Rochester youth music community; he’s immersed in it. He recognized the immense musical talent festering among Rochester’s teenagers. However, there was a distinct lack of teen-friendly music venues for these artists. Coffee shops like Café Steam were a great place to start, Hilliker said. But people did not typically visit those places for the music. “I wanted to have a venue and an event that could really showcase the talent that Rochester has,” he explained.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester.

To address this need in the teen community, Hilliker launched the very first ROCKchester Festival last May, “to get our voices heard and get our music out there on a more professional platform.” The first ROCKchester took place at the Wicked Moose. The event contained over eight hours of music from six local teen bands and five teen singer/songwriters, encompassing all genres of music, including rap, jazz, rock and roll, indie, and electronica.

“It’s just so cool to see that we have kids in Rochester that are doing more than the hard rock and the country and things you typically see around town,” Hilliker said.

ROCKchester also featured several local teen artists.  

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This inaugural music festival had a two-part mission. The first was to encourage teens to share their music- get them playing somewhere outside of their basement or bedroom- to an audience on a professional platform. “It’s not art unless you put it out there. You have to be able to project your work into the community and into the public,” Hilliker explained.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester Festival.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester Festival.

The second goal was to educate teens, and adults, about the youthful music community in Rochester. “We want kids to see, basically, the best of what Rochester has in the teenage and the college age range so that they can see what they can become,” Hilliker said.

Hilliker thinks we have the capacity to create a professional music culture in Rochester similar to that of the Twin Cities or Duluth. But right now, the lack of venues in Rochester is affecting teen and adult musicians alike. This limitation is chewing away at the professional music scene here and restricting career choices among the youth of the city.

Hilliker has come across many talented teen musicians in Rochester. He wonders, “if they would have aspired to be professional musicians if they would have had more opportunities to play and had venues that were friendly towards teenagers and friendly towards kids who are coming up through the ranks.”

This year, the second edition of ROCKchester will take place in the brand new Pure Rock Studios performance space. To Hilliker, this is the perfect match for the music festival. Studio owner Ryan Utterback is a music mentor to Hilliker and many other kids, and adults, in Rochester, who is helping to get teen musicians heard. This year’s ROCKchester takes place July 15th and will include teen musicians, teen artists, and even a food truck lineup. The organizing team is still looking for local artists to play at the event. More information can be found on the ROCKchester Festival website.

However, Hilliker’s vision for music in Rochester extends beyond this mission with ROCKchester. He wants to use music to give back. Over winter break this year, Hilliker and friend Andy Furness put on a Unity through Music event series. This sequence of house shows featured teen musicians and even included an open mic night at the Rochester Art Center. At a time with much social unrest, this event celebrated community, understanding, and compassion and was completely organized by teenagers. The Unity through Music series raised over $350 for local charities.

“[Music] is really something that can do a lot of good and can teach kids not only to love music, but to love giving back and love helping others,” Hilliker affirmed.

Two Mayo Graduate Students Developing Automated Solution for Cell Culture

By kaibara87 - originally posted to Flickr as Cell Culture, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5618734

By kaibara87 - originally posted to Flickr as Cell Culture, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5618734

Two Mayo Clinic PhD students are creating “solutions for your solution problem.” These female innovators are developing a self-contained, modular system that eliminates a major pain point among life science researchers: the daily need to change cell culture media.

Sherri Biendarra, a third year developmental biology and regenerative medicine student, and Lindsey Andres-Beck, a second year neuroengineering student, both have felt the burden, personally, of working with cell culture. Any researcher working with cultured cells- animal or plant cells growing outside of their normal environment for research purposes- knows that they can be particularly…greedy. Especially sensitive cell types need to have their media- a liquid chock full of nutrients and other growth supplements that cultured cells need to survive- replaced every day. This means hauling yourself into the lab on weekends, holidays, and during inclement weather just to keep vital research experiments running.

The pair of students set out to “decrease the burden on grad students and post docs who are wanting to do that really exciting research,” explained Andres-Beck. They developed a concept, termed C2 Solutions, to automate portions of the cell culture process, eliminating the need for researchers to be present for the daily media change and freeing up more time to do experiments rather than basic maintenance tasks. Biendarra and Andres-Beck are creating a product that will sit on top of a normal six- or twelve-well cell culture plate, remove old media, and supply fresh media to cultured cells without any researcher needing to be present.

The C2 Solutions concept was developed during a twelve-week course at Mayo Graduate School called Case Studies in Entrepreneurship. The course teaches students about business development and brings a sense of the entrepreneurial spirit to the Mayo student population. Biendarra and Andres-Beck had previously completed all their course requirements, but felt that the class was worth exploring.

“I know I’m leaning away from the standard academic track. You know, you do your postdoc and you get a faculty position. …I’m more interested in kind of learning and exploring my skill sets and my knowledge base to help me make an educated decision about what else…what other area to pursue,” Biendarra explained.

Andres-Beck admits that, “I came in very traditional, like I want to go straight through to being a [Principle Investigator] and now I’m not sure. But I want to explore my options. And regardless of what I choose, these skills will be useful to me.”

From day one, the goal of the course was to create a science-meets-business idea and develop that concept far enough along to answer a certain set of questions by the end of the class. This involved landing on a viable concept, adjusting the concept to meet a perceived market demand, and drilling the idea down to a persuasive two-minute pitch.

The top three student teams from the course competed in the “Junior Angler” division of Walleye Tank, Rochester’s first life science business pitch competition, at the end of the twelve weeks.

“So by the time we had done the pitch at Walleye Tank, we were kind of at the idea of a base concept of what we think a first minimal viable product would be. And at that point, we had accumulated a number of customer interviews as well to back up that this product would be valuable and what we think important factors for consideration and design of something like that would be,” explained Biendarra.

The pair thought they would just take the course, learn about business development, and then move on with their research. “And then we accidentally invented a thing. And it’s really exciting and cool and we want this thing to exist in the world,” said Andres-Beck. C2 Solutions won the student division of Walleye Tank; Biendarra and Andres-Beck will continue to pursue their concept to the next stage.

This entrepreneurial class and Walleye Tank opened up an entrepreneurial community that these female innovators had not known or had access to previously. “It’s been cool to, as a part of this class, just learn about this community I had no idea existed,” Biendarra explained.

The experience allowed the women to meet real, in-the-flesh life science and tech entrepreneurs, people they could potentially turn to for advice and valuable feedback. “Just having access to these people, talking to them, learning what the process looks like. Not just from reading, but from people who are actually doing it, I think was one of the main value adds for this class,” Andres-Beck explained.

While the skill sets these women learned would be of value to any student, they don’t necessarily think that developing a business, or exploring entrepreneurship, during graduate school is right for everyone. The lead scientists, or Principle Investigators (PIs), in each of the women’s labs have a strong entrepreneurial bent, and understood that time spent learning about entrepreneurship was valuable. However, not all PIs have the same view point.  Furthermore, to describe the life of a graduate student as “hectic” is an extreme understatement. There are a lot of moving parts to try and balance. The focus is supposed to be on the research.

For now, the goal of both women is to complete their studies and graduate on time. “I think most of the [students at Mayo] are still primarily focused on doing their research to publish papers and get to their postdoc,” said Biendarra.

Mayo might not be pushing straight up entrepreneurship among its students. “But if you’re interested, and you find the community, then you get a lot of support,” explained Andres-Beck.

The institution is, however, recognizing that times are changing. It’s getting increasingly difficult for PhDs to obtain full-time research faculty positions. Mayo Graduate School developed a relatively new initiative, Career Development Internships, which allow students to explore alternative careers in teaching, writing, and industry while pursuing their graduate studies.   

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Two Rochester Life Science Startups Win Walleye Tank Business Pitch Competition

This Friday the second edition of Walleye Tank, Rochester’s first life science business pitch competition, took place. Teams competed in one of two categories: “Junior Anglers”, Mayo Clinic graduate and medical students who built their concepts in only twelve weeks, and “Professionals”, more experienced bioscience companies.

Fourteen total life science startups competed to attract the attention of six “Walleyes”, seasoned business professionals including Area 10 CoFounder Traci Downs and Vice Chair of Mayo Clinic Ventures Andy Danielsen. Teams presented their concepts to the audience in two minutes or less and then were questioned by the Walleyes about their strategy and business plan.

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At the end of the afternoon two Rochester-based teams, C2 Solutions, a student-led startup concept to automate cell culture, and COVR Medical, a startup creating a soft, breathable garment that limits exposure of a patient’s body during surgery, walked away winners. Geneticure, a Minneapolis/Rochester-based pharmacogenomics company targeting hypertension, took away second place in the Professionals division. 

Mayo Clinic Graduate Student Launches Science Editing Company with Brothers

With the help of his two brothers, a Mayo Graduate School PhD student is creating a research manuscript editing service to help researchers write and publish more easily and increase the readability of science papers. This online platform, called SlateQ, connects scientific writers to scientists.

Carl Gustafson loved writing and editing science papers.  He frequently edited manuscripts for foreign research fellows in his thesis lab at Mayo Clinic.  But, as he accurately told me, good writing skills are an intellectual commodity.  Proper editing of science papers was a valuable service that he could provide. 

Carl wanted an avenue to market his and others’ editing and writing skills and make a little income on the side to supplement the typical low graduate student stipend.  He also was interested in careers in research communication and wanted to get that hands-on experience while completing his graduate work. 

“I was looking online and trying to figure out, ‘how could I do this?’  I wanted to help people write their science papers and I wanted to get paid to do it.  And I really couldn’t find anybody that would let me do that just as a graduate student or even as a scientist of any kind,” he explained. There were plenty of author service groups that did research paper editing, but none that could offer customers their choice of well-vetted editors in specialized fields, or that were well connected online. Most were full of inactive scientists, without current knowledge of research fields, who were now editing papers full-time.

If you can’t find a solution, then build one.  Carl decided to launch his own science manuscript editing service, called SlateQ, and he had just the right co-founders in mind.  Carl brought on his older brother, who is currently getting a PhD in online persuasion techniques and social influence from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his younger brother, a mathematics and computer science student at MIT, to build the business. 

[SlateQ Co-Founders Abel, Carl, and Joel Gustafson.]

Together, the Gustafson brothers created SlateQ, an online platform where one group of scientists could market their editing skills and another group could get expert help with their writing.

SlateQ provides English language, pre-publication manuscript editing to increase the readability and comprehensiveness of science manuscripts, helping researchers publish better papers, faster.

SlateQ specializes in the biosciences, but has expanding expertise in communication and social sciences.  Their knowledge and editor base is constantly growing.

Right now, SlateQ is building up their editor cohort and continuing the process of customer acquisition.  SlateQ editors must be active in some scientific field, which could be anything from research, to science communication, to product development. 

The SlateQ beta site is up and running.  “As soon as we have enough funding, we’re going to be developing our full site, where you have seamless integration of your authors and your editors,” Carl explained.

SlateQ is a win-win-win situation.  Researchers who want to improve their manuscripts can get specialized help from experts.  All kinds of research scientists, from graduate students to junior faculty, are able to market their research communication skills.  And the road to publication for new scientific studies becomes smoother because the manuscripts are written more persuasively.

“You have a talent.  You have a skill.  And you should be compensated for having that skill.  And there’s no structure right now for people to become compensated for being skilled in writing or in a lot of other scientific skill sets actually.”