Tech 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.

Tekcitadel Seeks to Connect African Tech Talent to Emerging Rochester Startups to Bolster Ecosystem

 Kenneth Ngah, Founder of Tekcitadel. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Ngah.

Kenneth Ngah, Founder of Tekcitadel. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Ngah.

Rochester entrepreneur Kenneth Ngah has his latest startup venture in focus. This Cameroonian native launched the technology company Tekcitadel to connect information and communication technology (ICT) specialists in Africa to budding companies in the Rochester area in need of web development services, bridging the ever-narrowing gap between the two continents.

Tekcitadel specializes in app development, content management, and web development. Ngah sees the startup as a way “to give Rochester’s entrepreneurs access to Africa’s rising affordable ICT talents, while helping both parties achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.”

With Tekcitadel Ngah, in addition, seeks to discover and curate responsible web and app development agencies already existing in Africa and to assist them in perfecting and mastering the techniques and specifics required for remote work, all the while maintaining a high standard of quality.

Ngah himself has a depth of experience in remote web development; he created websites for Danish, German, and American contractors without ever having to leave Cameroon. A graduate of the University College of Technology in Buea, Cameroon, Ngah largely built his own career from learning by doing. He runs another startup, called WandaGuides, that connects tourists to government recognized travel agencies within Cameroon.

Ngah served as an active community builder during his time in Cameroon; he assisted in creating three hyper-focused tech communities, including JavaScript and WordPress hubs. He also functioned as Community Manager of ActivSpaces, a Cameroonian tech network composed of two coworking spaces and an accelerator program.

Even after moving to Rochester in late 2016, Ngah maintained a strong connection with this community. He still plays an active role in Silicon Mountain, the nickname for the tech ecosystem in the mountainous region of Cameroon, which includes the city of Buea. Ngah maintains contact with ActivSpaces and information and communication technology agencies within that region. He also still coordinates the activities of JS-Junkies, a hyper-focused tech community in Silicon Mountain that advocates for the JavaScript programming language.

 Photo courtesy of Kenneth Ngah.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth Ngah.

Ngah sees something like Tekcitadel as an effective way to connect Africa’s developing tech sector to the needs of emerging entrepreneurs in the Rochester ecosystem.

“Developing skills in web programming is hard. Hiring programming skills in the USA is expensive,” he explained. “When we are able to outsource our programming tasks around prototype development, entrepreneurs in Rochester will be able to build their app ideas faster, hence promoting entrepreneurship as we minimize the risk of not being able to transform an idea into a product.”

Ngah believes this capability will allow more products to launch from the Rochester area, attracting increased investment and bolstering the region economically.   

Statewide Initiative "Ignite Minnesota" Launches Today to Keep Greater Minnesota Competitive

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Ignite Minnesota, a new, statewide initiative, launches today out of Red Wing. This regional partnership works to convene, elevate, and promote the work of innovative businesses, entrepreneurs, and technologies in Minnesota to keep the region connected and globally competitive in an ever-evolving digital space. Ignite Minnesota aims to support students, businesses, and entrepreneurs throughout Greater Minnesota.

The program officially takes off this evening from the Red Wing Ignite coworking space; Red Wing Ignite is a non-profit that provides a work space, gigabit internet access, business programming, connections, and more to help entrepreneurs turn their innovations into reality.

The steering committee for Ignite Minnesota includes 3M, Xcel Energy, Winona State University, Minnesota State College SE, the City of Red Wing, Collider Coworking, Rainsource Capital, Goodhue Country, and multiple entrepreneurs.

The goal is to create a connection point for people, ideas, and resources in Minnesota to foster innovation and develop technology in clean energy, healthcare, advanced manufacturing, education, and agtech.

“Our work will help rural America and Greater Minnesota stay competitive,” explained Neela Mollgaard, Executive Director of Red Wing Ignite.

The ground work for Ignite Minnesota began in 2013 when Red Wing Ignite became an original member of the brand-new non-profit, US Ignite. This program was launched to help communities and entrepreneurs develop new technology to influence the way people “work, learn, and live.”

After linking up with other US Ignite communities, Mollgaard said that Red Wing Ignite “really started focusing on entrepreneurs and startups and trying to give them the resources that they need to succeed.” In 2015, US Ignite, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, launched a Smart Gigabite Communities (SGC) Program to develop and deploy these newly developed technologies in the real world. Red Wing Ignite became the very first rural community to be designated as an SGC by the program and the only SGC focused on agtech.

Now, Red Wing Ignite is looking to expand its mission to fuel innovation in Greater Minnesota, connect entrepreneurs and institutions, and further support and elevate the innovation already occurring in this region with Ignite Minnesota.

While the program officially opens today, the work is far from over to implement Ignite Minnesota across the state. A number of tech ambassadors have been hired in outreach positions for the program. These ambassadors will link up with meetup groups, developers, students, stakeholders, and other entrepreneurs across the state to provide education about Ignite Minnesota and to discover needs and gaps in these communities.

“Throughout the whole year, we will also be planning events to gather these key stakeholders to continue to work together to help foster new innovations,” explained Mollgaard.

Red Wing Ignite serves as the community piece in this puzzle, forming a tech hub for Minnesota’s entrepreneurs and reaching out to other Ignite communities to share best practices.

Learn more about this new initiative by attending the Ignite Minnesota launch this evening in Red Wing.

Ignite Minnesota is also interested in connecting with entrepreneurs in need of resources, potential business mentors, and any individuals interested in hosting or co-hosting events with the program.

NFL's 1st And Future Startup Competition Heats Things Up In Minneapolis

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On the eve of Super Bowl LII, the stars were not the football players, but the innovators and entrepreneurs with the ideas to change the game. Yesterday morning, nine early stage sports tech startups pitched their emerging technologies during the NFL’s 1st and Future Competition, the organization’s premier business pitch event, to a panel of judges and invite-only audience to win $50,000 and two tickets to Super Bowl LII.

The startups remaining in this annual competition participated in one of three categories: Advancements in Protective Equipment, New Therapies to Speed Recovery, and Technology to Improve Athletic Performance. One winner was selected in each category.

The Denver, Colorado based startup Impressio won the Advancements in Protective Equipment division. Impressio is led by a pair of engineering professors who have spent the last fifteen years “obsessed with finding new materials to improve human health.” This team aims to replace the current foam in helmets with a material containing “unprecedented energy absorbing ability,” called liquid crystal elastomers, to reduce concussion rates. These oval shaped molecules rotate when impacted to absorb more energy and dissipate absorption from impact over a broader range than current helmet foam material, increasing helmet safety. The technology requires no fundamental re-design of the helmet. Liquid crystal elastomers are documented by over forty years of research but are difficult to make, according to Impressio. The team has a patented procedure to manufacture the material in bulk.

Curv.ai, based in Toronto, Ontario, walked away as winners in the Technology to Improve Athletic Performance category. This startup is developing software that transforms the camera on any smart phone into a tool to test athletic abilities, track athletic progress, diagnose injury, and compare athletic advancements socially. The application can capture data such as throwing speed, vertical jump, knee kinematics, and reaction time to create a “revolution in athletic testing and athlete development.” The platform is free to use, with a paid premium model available to track data over time. The software is geared toward young athletes. A variety of wearables do exist to quantify these same types of data. However, these items are expensive, complicated, and cannot be integrated onto one platform, according to Curv.ai.

The Mountain View, California startup Recover X won the final division, New Therapies to Speed Recovery. This startup is “building the next generation of injury recovery devices to help speed recovery…and keep players accountable to their actual treatment.” The startup is developing a smart phone-controlled electric cold and hot therapy device that warms up or cools down to the optimal therapy temperatures in under thirty seconds. The device can also alternate between heat and cold for optimal recovery. The device is portable, runs on batteries, and requires the use of no ice. It even tracks data to ensure that players are performing their therapy as prescribed. The device is currently targeted to the knee, the cause of 28% of Injury Reserve issues in the NFL last year. However, the design is modular and can be adapted to target other portions of the body.

The NFL’s 1st and Future Competition was sponsored by Mayo Clinic, Sports Engine, and Comcast NBCUniversal. The event was hosted by Scott Hanson of the NFL Network. The expert panel of judges included Amy Banse, Managing Director and Head of Funds for Comcast Ventures; Jonathan Finnoff, Medical Director of Mayo Clinic Square with the Sports Medicine Center in Minneapolis; Courtney Hall, Managing Director of Hillcrest Venture Partners and former NFL athlete; Justin Kaufenberg, Co-Founder and CEO of Sports Engine; Laurie Locascio, Vice President for Research at the University of Maryland; Eric Sugarman, Director of Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer with the Minnesota Vikings; and Jennifer Wethe, Neuropsychologist for Mayo Clinic Arizona Sports Neurology and Concussion Program.

Last year, Rochester’s own GoRout participated in the 1st and Future Competition the day before Super Bowl LI in Houston and won their division, Communication with the Athlete. GoRout is a hardware and software company that elevates “scout team execution with football’s most powerful on-field practice gear.”

This year, no Minnesota companies made it to the final round of the competition.

Rochester Startup Spark DJ Accepted into Techstars Music Accelerator Program

 Spark DJ Founders James Jones (left) and John Gavin Boss (right) speaking at a previous 1 Million Cups Rochester.

Spark DJ Founders James Jones (left) and John Gavin Boss (right) speaking at a previous 1 Million Cups Rochester.

A big congratulations and good luck to Spark DJ founders John Gavin Boss and James Jones. This Rochester music startup is off to Los Angeles to participate in the Techstars Music Accelerator. Techstars is a premier accelerator program and global network that provides entrepreneurs with the resources and connections they need to succeed.

The accelerator program begins on Monday and runs for thirteen weeks in LA. Only ten music startups were accepted into the program. During their time in the accelerator, Spark DJ will have the opportunity to receive mentoring from a variety of experts in music, media, tech, and venture capital to move their business forward. Techstars Music also invests $120K into each honoree.

Spark DJ is a mobile application that uses artificial intelligence and data science to deliver live-curated music right from a cell phone to provide high quality, well mixed music. The startup has also made significant strides in Minnesota. They are previous High-Tech division finalists in Minnesota Cup, the state’s premium startup competition, and were Golden iPod Champions in Beta.MN Startup Showcase in Minneapolis.  

After Exits, DoApp Founder Looking to Give Back to the Rochester Entrepreneurial Community

This article is the second, and final, installment telling the story of DoApp, a mobile development company and Rochester's biggest startup story that you didn't know. In part one we discussed how founders Wade Beavers, Joe Sriver, and David Borrillo launched DoApp on a whim in 2008. After spending a year with little direction, the team focused in and developed three portions of the business: a news and broadcast solution, a real estate market solution, and a healthcare solution, called mRemedy. If you missed part one, click here to catch up with the story.

 DoApp founding member and CEO Wade Beavers. Photo courtesy of DoApp.

DoApp founding member and CEO Wade Beavers. Photo courtesy of DoApp.

Beavers tried to perform a complicated juggling act, functioning as CEO of both the news and real estate portion of DoApp as well as the active CEO of mRemedy, the health and wellness mobile application solution in partnership with Mayo Clinic.

None of these three were failing, or at least none were failing fast, but the company needed to focus once again to home in on their “DNA” and capitalize on their intellectual assets.

“I think all three would have gained traction, but I think there’s no way you could have focused on all three,” Beavers said.

Thankfully, fate and strategic partnerships helped just a bit.

mRemedy was gaining traction all by itself. In 2010, the care transitions provider Axial Exchange did an asset acquisition of mRemedy, obtaining the knowledge and infrastructure of that portion of the business, while allowing all the employees to remain with DoApp.

With the focus now on the news and real estate portions of the business, both started to take off. In 2012, the DoApp team was looking to exit, or sell the company. Beavers began running a dual process to sell both the news and real estate sides of DoApp to separate companies.

However, fate reared its head again. Near the very end of the due diligence process, the buyer for the news portion of DoApp backed out, while the real estate piece was successfully acquired by the property solutions provider CoreLogic. This mishap resulted in, essentially, the fragmentation of the company. But the most difficult part, Beavers said, was having to dust himself off and start running what was left of the company again.

“So, imagine you’re spending all your time prepping for that piece and now you have to pick up the pieces and go. So that was really hard,” he explained.

Now whittled down from three to just one company, DoApp doubled down on the news solution. They focused only on providing mobile applications and web solutions for broadcast, radio, and news agencies, building out an impressive portfolio. The company grew so much, Beavers said, that he started to stash away money in case the business eventually went south.

Beavers continued to grow DoApp for two full years until another potential partner came forward. In just July of last year this final portion of DoApp was successfully acquired by NEWSCYCLE Solutions, a leading tech provider for global media based in Bloomington, Minn.

As part of the acquisition deal, DoApp remained in Rochester and all the employees will stay on for at least two years after the acquisition.

“A great product goes away if great people go away,” Beavers rationalized.

 Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week. November 13th-17th.

Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week. November 13th-17th.

He said there’s a lot of talent in Rochester and it was important to him to keep these jobs in the area.

“We were doing that for Rochester. …Those are average wage jobs of $90,000 or above, minimum. That’s real money,” he said.

Beavers agreed to stay on as President of Mobile at NEWSCYCLE for at least one year, with all his employees still directly reporting to him. Although that year has passed, he has given no indication of his intent to stay or leave the company. Now with a little bit more time on his hands, he’s begun investing in some other local startups.

One thing that helped Beavers succeed was a perceptive understanding of the “DNA”, or culture, of his company. And not just what he desired for the business’s “DNA”, but really comprehending what his employees valued.

“I think you have to know your character and you have to be true to yourself,” he explained. “You’ve got to be comfortable with yourself and what you are and know that that’s how you’re going to succeed or fail based on those conditions.”

Beavers knows a thing or two about fostering company culture. In his over eight years at DoApp, only one employee has left the business.

Even though the Rochester startup and entrepreneurial community has changed since 2008, Beavers said it’s still in its infancy. He thinks the community in Rochester has to be comfortable with its own “DNA” and understand that unicorns are not going to be built here. But that doesn’t mean the community is lacking in great ideas, sharp talent, or rising potential.

Beavers said while building a business you have to be laser-focused on just the business.

“You have to put everything away and get the thing to the finish line,” he advised.

Now that his own exits are complete, Beavers is looking to give more of his time to the Rochester entrepreneurial community and offer up his advice and unique experience as guidance.

As part of these efforts, the DoApp founding team of Beavers, Joe Sriver, and David Borrillo as well as other key service providers in the community will host an event during Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week to candidly talk about fundraising, acquisitions, pivots, and everything else you want to know about startups but are afraid to ask.

Link up with the team and hear their first-hand account of how they built a startup in Rochester on Wednesday November 15th at 6PM in the Bleu Duck Kitchen. Click here for more information and to register.

One of the Biggest Rochester Startup Stories that You Don't Know: Meet DoApp

 DoApp Founders (from left to right): Wade Beavers, Joe Sriver, and David Borrillo. Photo courtesy of DoApp.

DoApp Founders (from left to right): Wade Beavers, Joe Sriver, and David Borrillo. Photo courtesy of DoApp.

Serial entrepreneur Wade Beavers has built his companies. Now, this tech executive is ready to give back to the Rochester entrepreneurial community. After launching the mobile application development startup DoApp Inc. in 2008, Beavers and his leadership team sold the business off as three separate companies from 2012 to 2016. Beavers believes the Rochester community is ripe for growth and wants to share his unique experience and expertise with the startup culture emerging in this city.

While others in Rochester have certainly exited companies, and exited them successfully, the story of DoApp is truly unique and authentically Minnesotan.

Beavers himself began his tech career right at IBM in Rochester, working as a user experience architect in 1998. During his time with that company, he met visual designer Joe Sriver; the pair’s fate have been tightly linked ever since.

Beavers said that he and Sriver hatched several ideas during their early days at IBM, “but we had no idea of business. That wasn’t even on our radar. It was more of the creative juices kind of flowing,” he explained.

Searching for something a bit more, Sriver left IBM for a position with Google in 2001, at a time when the now tech behemoth was a relative unknown, becoming the company’s very first user experience designer. Google, of course, takes off; Sriver continued with the company until after they went public. He then moved back to the Midwest with his family, searching for the next challenge.

Cue old friend Beavers.

“We basically decided on a whim that we’re going to start a company,” Beavers explained.

With no real plan, except for the nagging idea that mobile technology was going to be the next big thing, Sriver, Beavers, and fellow IBM-er David Borrillo launched DoApp in 2008. From his success with Google, Sriver single-handedly funded the startup, preventing the team from bootstrapping or seeking outside funding. From the start, they focused on product development and growth.

“The idea of starting a startup in 2008, specifically in Rochester, the ‘DNA’ of that option was pretty limited,” Beavers explained.

He found few avenues for business assistance in Rochester, especially for a tech startup. It was also extremely difficult to convince potential employees to leave positions at established companies such as IBM.

“Most of my employees that we had during this time were engineers that had five years at a big company, at least. And wanted more. Wanted independence,” Beavers said.

Like every other tech business in the spring of 2008, the freshly formed team applied to become an Apple developer for the launch of the company’s brand new App Store later that year. Apple was only accepting 500 apps from 2500 companies. DoApp had absolutely no reason to succeed.

But they had not just one, but three apps chosen for the App Store’s opening in July 2008.

After that initial success, Beavers said the team was just burning through cash, trying to figure things out. “Figuring things out” included completing some demo work for Purina, landing a seven-app deal with Sony BMG, and creating an app for American Idol winner David Cook.

“We didn’t know what we were really doing,” Beavers laughed. “We just did it to keep paying the bills.”

To put a cork in the cash hemorrhage, they needed to focus on their core strengths, their “DNA”, and develop some sort of profitable business plan. Beavers had a hunch- which turned out to be remarkably accurate- that with the advancement of tech capabilities, consumers were going to want to perform the same activities on their mobile phones as they could on their computers using the web.

He thought these basic activities would include: transactions, entertainment, education, and added utility.

At the time, the software as a service (SaaS) model, where software is licensed as a subscription service, was not as ubiquitous as it is today.  After surviving for one year, the team committed to SaaS and began developing mobile solutions for the news and broadcast industry, landing their first client in WCCO-TV.

“You have to have a business model in place. We didn’t initially. But then I realized, here’s how we’re going to make our money. It was all about software as a service,” Beavers explained.

This is where the story starts to get even more…intense.

As DoApp was building this first product for WCCO-TV, another portion of the team also began creating a mobile solution to tap into the enormous real estate market. The goal, Beavers explained, was to provide a SaaS product for every Multiple Listing Service (MLS) association.

They didn’t end up replacing MLS, but at its height DoApp’s real estate solution provided MLS subscription members with data-rich listings right on their mobile devices in ten of the top twenty real estate markets in the United States.

Then in 2009, Do App formed a partnership with Mayo Clinic and Dr. Amit Sood to launch an app teaching relaxation and breathing techniques. After completion of this product build, DoApp and Mayo continued the partnership to create additional health and wellness-focused mobile applications.

“So basically, I’ve built three companies, thinking one of these three is going to take off. In their own weird way, they were all surviving,” Beavers explained.

Check back in on Thursday for the second part of this story where Wade talks about successfully exiting all three companies that were built within DoApp and gives his insight on the Rochester entrepreneurial community.

Press Release: Bringspring Meehealth and Ambient Clinical Analytics Sign Cooperation Agreement in Beijing

  Al Berning, CEO of Ambient Clinical Analytics and Dr. Zhang Jiwu, CEO of Meehealth. Photo courtesy of Ambient Clinical Anaalytics. 

Al Berning, CEO of Ambient Clinical Analytics and Dr. Zhang Jiwu, CEO of Meehealth. Photo courtesy of Ambient Clinical Anaalytics. 

Beijing, China – October 26, 2017 Ambient Clinical Analytics announced today that it has signed a Cooperation Agreement with Meehealth (The wholly owned subsidiary company of Bringspring Technologies Co., Ltd, hereinafter referred to as Bringspring Meehealth or Meehealth) in Beijing. Bringspring Meehealth plans to sell Ambient Clinical’s products in China and the companies plan to develop new products for China and the world markets. Founded by a Mayo Clinic academic clinical team and seasoned technology entrepreneurs, Ambient Clinical is located in Rochester, MN, USA. Ambient Clinical’s software enhances the way critical care providers operate. The company sells real time clinical decision support systems and alerting tools to hospitals which result in reduced errors, lower health care costs, and improved patient outcomes. 

"Bringspring Meehealth and Ambient Clinical met in the United States in 2014. Bringspring Meehealth has an international professional team and culture, and places a high value on technological innovation and product quality. Meehealth is honored to cooperate with excellent partners such as Ambient Clinical. “Benefiting society and benefiting mankind is the mutual mission and foundation of the cooperation, and the companies will jointly contribute to the development of world health service." said Dr. Zhang Jiwu, CEO of Meehealth. 

“At Ambient Clinical Analytics, we’re excited to be working with Bringspring Meehealth to cooperate on products for China and the world health IT markets”, said Al Berning, CEO of Ambient Clinical Analytics. “Bringspring Meehealth’s strong support of hospitals across China combined with Ambient Clinical’s products, which are based on Mayo Clinic technologies, make a strong combination to improve healthcare through the use of advanced real time clinical decision support products.” 

“We’re looking forward to working with Bringspring Meehealth and Ambient Clinical to deploy the unique Mayo Clinic real time clinical decision support technology in China.” said Brian Pickering, M.B., B.Ch., of Mayo Clinic, one of the co- inventors of the technology. 

"Bringspring Technology acquired Meehealth, which is the industry's leading health IT company, supporting the company's leading edge in the field of clinical application subdivision. Meehealth has established a cooperative relationship with Ambient Clinical, and we are very pleased and excited about the future. We will fully support and have full confidence in the development of the companies’ cooperation." said Qi Zheng, the vice president of Bringspring Technology. 

Bringspring Meehealth are health care high-tech enterprises with an international perspective, the domestic first-class level, with research focused on medical software products and leads the market by operating room, ICU, emergency department and other clinical information application market customers across the well-known 3A hospitals. With strong technical ability in data processing, data modeling and system architecture design, the company has entered the medical health big data, artificial intelligence and other innovative research applications, relying on the research center in Boston in the United States and the international first-class scientific research talents, Bringspring Meehealth has made remarkable achievements in the research of the health care field, with a mission to improve the efficiency and quality medical services and improve health outcomes. 

Ambient Clinical has licensed Mayo Clinic technologies which include over 1,000 rules and algorithms to give critical care providers real-time access to vital process-of-care information and analytics at the point-of-care, as well as from a central Clinical Control Tower. The CERTAIN product provides critical clinical resuscitation information in the first “Golden Hours” of critical care. Bedside based alerts for conditions like Sepsis allow physicians and medical personnel to spend more time with patients rather than reviewing data. Ambient Clinical’s products are designed to support a hospital’s Lean Quality and Six Sigma initiatives. Ambient Clinical has achieved FDA Class II Clearance for the AWARE and Sepsis DART software platform. 

Mayo Clinic and Dr. Brian Pickering have a financial interest in the technology referenced in this news release. The revenue that Mayo Clinic receives is used to support its not-for-profit mission in patient care, education and research. 

About Bringspring Meehealth
Bringspring (300290) is a technology listed company established in 2005. Driven by ongoing innovative, focus on health data and intelligent cloud services areas. We have established a cutting-edge technologies portfolio in cloud computing, big data, internet of things, artificial intelligence and service. With more than ten years efforts, Bringspring is committed to building a better intelligent and healthier world, and we have grown into a considerable investment value and development potential company. In 2017, company jointly launched the China health big data Limited company, led by National Health and Family Planning Commission, to build a healthy medical big data ecosystem. Meehealth is a leading Health IT company that supports hospitals across China. It has from the world's leading technology and management team, to provide emergency clinical information system (ECIS), Intensive Care Clinical Information System (ICIS), Anesthesia Clinical Information Management system (AIMS), Hospital Unified information Solution (HUIS), mobile Ward Rounds system and the medical industry IT system products , combined with cloud computing, big data, networking, AI and other new generation of information technology to provide the critical patients cloud platform, regional emergency for overall customer collaborative cloud platform and other medical information solutions. In 2016, Bringspring wholly owned Meehealth, has strengthened the company's leading edge in the field of clinical application subdivision. Bringspring integrates high-quality resources, and actively explore the clinical medicine artificial intelligence and big data application platform, build health care big data ecosystem, and promote more intelligent health new service model. 

About Ambient Clinical Analytics
Ambient Clinical Analytics sells powerful real-time bedside healthcare data assimilation, communication, and analytics based clinical decision support tools that support the general hospital floor, Emergency Department, ICU and other critical care areas. At Ambient Clinical Analytics, we understand the power of data to save lives and our analytics based, real- time, point-of-care solutions like Sepsis DART rely on real-time data to improve Sepsis detection and the monitoring of Sepsis treatment. Our business model is supported by software license fees, SaaS, Cloud and system integration support. Ambient Clinical Analytics has an MD and executive team with strong track records in medicine, clinical research and informatics, medical products and IT. Ambient Clinical’s investors include Social Capital, Mayo Clinic, Waterline Ventures, Bluestem Capital, Rock Health and Rochester Area Economic Development Inc.

Agile Startups, Football Reps, and Social Media Management- the Latest 1 Million Cups Rochester

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Yesterday the latest installment of 1 Million Cups Rochester took place, featuring the rapidly growing Rochester tech startup GoRout and the emerging Twin Cities software company EverGreen.

 

GoRout

GoRout is an “on-field, visual communications platform for high school college, NFL, and CFL football programs.”

“Football,” explained GoRout Founder and CEO Mike Rolih, “is all about imagery.” In a sport dominated by chalk talks, diagrams, and film footage, the current communication methods used in football, Rolih said, are outdated and inefficient.

To communicate the next play during practice, coaches currently call their players off the line of scrimmage, talk through the upcoming play using a diagram on paper, and then send the players back out onto the field.

Rolih said this method uses up valuable practice time and does not speak the language of today’s generation of football players, “most of which have never lived their lives a single day without the iPod or the iPhone being in existence.”

Instead, GoRout has perfected football practice with their line of visual communication products. Their first product, Vue, displays play cards visually on a small screen that straps around players’ forearms and instantly communicates plays without the player ever leaving the field. GoRout’s newest product, Vue-Up, utilizes the same technology to display the next play across the visor of players’ helmets.

Using this technology, teams can run 45-55 reps in ten minutes, compared to 10-12 plays in that same amount of time without the GoRout products.

GoRout also developed their own private wireless network, covering all forty-eight lower U.S. states and half of Canada, that sends plays from the coaches to the players on the field in under one second.

All GoRout hardware is designed in Rochester. The tech startup provides their software to football teams for free and sells teams bandwidth on their private network. Rolih says GoRout is “pretty solid” now in both software and hardware development; their network has not dropped a single play since May.

GoRout has achieved much success. Rolih said their biggest problem now is dealing with the growth of the business.

“We’re transitioning from being a startup to [being] an early stage company. And with that comes a significant amount of learning pains and growth pains,” he explained.

Although the startup must expand, Rolih said he wants to keep the home office as small as possible. He expects the Rochester team to grow from seven to twenty-five people by the end of next year.

For himself and other startups in this city, Rolih asked Rochester entrepreneurs to start talking.

“We need to amplify stories about entrepreneurism here in Rochester, because there’s a significant group of people that expect everything in town to be run by one entity,” he said. “We have the opportunity to be more than just one thing in Rochester. And it’s really important that we find ways to do that.”

EverGreen

EverGreen is a social media automation tool for small to medium-sized businesses that lack the “time, resources, expertise, or budget to really run their own social media.” This emerging software startup was developed by accident, explained Founder Lou Abramowski.

A few years ago, Abramowski performed an experiment. He kept changing his birthdate on Facebook to the current day to see if he could receive happy birthday messages. He decided to continue this test until the birthday messages were no longer sincere. He expected the replies would continue for a few days. He was shocked when they went on for several weeks; he even received some from the same people more than once.

He deconstructed this experiment to determine why the messages continued for so long and boiled it down to one thing: “evergreen” content. “Evergreen,” Abramowski explained, is material that does not expire and is not relevant to the date, time, or current events. It’s something that’s educational, inspirational, or entertaining as opposed to content tied to a specific event, such as a Labor Day post, for example.

Since the beginning of social media marketing, Abramowski said people hesitated to reuse content or thought it should be “single serving,” or tailored to a very specific audience. Instead, he experimented with the exact opposite, even going so far as posting the same photo of a bunny wearing a backpack on Facebook every single day.

He began building up a library of this “evergreen” social media content on his computer desktop. Eventually, he designed software that would pull the content out of these libraries and randomly publish them on social media accounts whenever he did not publish content or have it scheduled on typical social media management platforms like Buffer or HootSuite.

Eventually, word spread and people asked to license his software.

Today, EverGreen publishes between 20-30K posts each day and manages a few thousand Facebook pages. Abramowski says fifty percent of his customers are solopreneurs. Another twenty-five percent are small businesses that cannot pay for a full time social media manager. The remaining twenty-five percent are larger agencies.

 

1 Million Cups Rochester

1 Million Cups is a free, national education program that takes place in over 133 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 October 4th.  

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.

How to Pivot a Digital Health Startup: The Story Behind Apri Health

Apri Health, a data analytics and healthcare startup incubating in the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator, is expanding their focus. The five-year-old company uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to query large sets of medical data to create “ecosystems of action within healthcare systems.” Now, they are applying their data analytics platform to ask more questions and transform that information into actionable results for healthcare systems.

Apri Health Founder and CEO Dr. Mark Ereth had a very successful, twenty-five-year career in anesthesiology at Mayo Clinic before retiring- and then launching a company. Ereth, a native of North Dakota, attended graduate school and performed his fellowship at the clinic; he then remained on staff as a physician/scientist. During his time at Mayo, Ereth pioneered an analytics program to reduce unnecessary blood transfusion expenditures, saving the healthcare system $25M.

“But I was ready for something different,” he explained.

Ereth licensed some of the intellectual property that he developed from Mayo and launched his own startup in 2013, called Transfuse Solutions, with serial entrepreneur and physician Dr. Jamison Feramisco, an expert in telehealth and high tech.

“The best thing I happened to do was get a good partner,” Ereth said.

With Ereth’s expertise in reducing blood transfusion costs and Feramisco’s seasoned career in digital health, the team set out to attack overutilization issues in healthcare, focusing in on blood transfusion. These events, Ereth explained, are the most common medical procedures in the country. However, they are often unnecessary and expensive.

Ereth, Feramisco, and their team of “cutting edge AI and machine learning experts” developed a patient blood management solution that used machine learning to query large sets of medical data and provide a solution to reduce blood transfusion-associated costs to the healthcare system.

However, Ereth says he always knew the company would expand beyond the blood market.

In June 2016, Transfuse Solutions rebranded to Apri Health with the mission to “transform data-rich, insight-poor environments into profound ecosystems of discovery and action.”

The team had already built the data analytics platform that could interface with electronic health records (EHRs)- comprehensive, digital records of a patient’s medical history. The platform used machine learning to develop new algorithms, daily, to query these massive EHR datasets, delivering actionable intelligence to healthcare systems.

“If you have the records, you just have to change the question,” Ereth explained. “You can run an experiment every four hours by just changing the questions.”

They now have applied their data analytics system to solve other healthcare overutilization issues beyond blood.

Recently, Apri Health has applied their machine learning to solve the issue of cost of care. They’ve partnered with a hospital in Hartford, Conn. to help the system assess how much it costs to deliver specific items of care and analyze how these rates impact the institution.

As one example, Apri Health examined congestive heart failure patients admitted within the Hartford system with the same clinical diagnoses and identical outcomes. They discovered that patients treated by cardiologists incurred a much higher daily cost to the hospital system than those treated by hospitalists- physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants who provide general medical care to hospitalized patients.

“We were able to say if we’re looking at value-based care, why have a cardiologist take care of patients when the hospitalists can get them out of the hospital, with the exact same outcomes, for essentially $5,000 less per visit?” Ereth asked.

Apri Health is also moving into the field of pharmacogenomics, using genetic testing to predict metabolic response to drugs. The team formed a partnership with a large genetic firm and launched a successful pilot study with Georgetown University and the University of California, San Diego. Now, they’re looking to move into other areas, such as opiate metabolism.

The digital health company has also applied their data analytics platform to a less sexy area: medical billing. They’ve used the software to query 1.3M lines of bills- from seven years of healthcare data and $3B worth of billing- and found “450M in fraud, waste, or abuse.”

“We started off as this blood company, but now we’re doing all this other stuff. And part of our problem today, as a company, is keeping focus in what we’re doing and yet also expanding what we’re doing,” Ereth explained.

In his long career in medicine, Ereth has seen what it takes to be a successful clinician/scientist: a mix of asking the right questions, pursuing the right questions, and mobilizing resources to address those questions. He also sees a lot of commonalities between medicine and business.

As a physician, Ereth said, “You’re making a decision on behalf of the patient, sometimes with only eighty percent of the information you’d like. It has short and long term implications. And death is always out there.”

The same is true in business. But instead of death of a patient, that same choice can lead to the demise of a company.

Ereth thinks the environment in Rochester is now primed for entrepreneurship, thanks to the work of people like Xavier Frigola and Gary Smith at Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc., along with others in the community. Things are now much easier for entrepreneurs in this exciting time of development.

He says what’s lacking is capital and local angel investment. Apri Health themselves has only one investor in Rochester; the rest are spread across the country.

“There’s a lot of innovation in town. And I think it’s really capital [that’s needed] to drive that innovation,” Ereth explained.

Sponsored: BrandHoot Celebrates Five Year Mark as Finalist for U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Awards

 BrandHoot Founder Nate Nordstrom

BrandHoot Founder Nate Nordstrom

BrandHoot Founder Nate Nordstrom has built his company from the ground up. This Rochester-based, design-focused business was created in Nordstrom’s attic office five years ago. Now, the ten-person team is a finalist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Design Big Small Business of the Year Awards. BrandHoot continues to discover new ways to thrive in Rochester and beyond. Now, Nordstrom looks to other entrepreneurs to just “start something” in this city.

BrandHoot develops websites and apps through a “special blend of strategy, design, and engineering” to empower and advance business owners and healthcare leaders. In addition to website design, the team offers strategy and UX prototyping, design sprint, mobile app design, custom programming, inbound marketing, and accessibility testing services. BrandHoot has worked with clients like Mayo Clinic, Destination Medical Center, and the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce. They also provide a website design service, called PixelPress, specifically for nonprofits and small businesses.

Additional BrandHoot products include the mobile apps Rochester Now, a one-stop shop to all events and resources in Rochester, and FanCoach, a Facebook marketing tool for restaurants.

A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Nordstrom launched BrandHoot out of his own home attic office in January 2012, after leaving his full-time job and learning that he and his wife were expecting their first child. At the time, he had few connections in Rochester and no funding. He bootstrapped and grew the business over the next five years by providing unique value to his ever-growing customer base.

In 2015, the BrandHoot team of four moved out of Nordstrom’s basement into The Vault, a historic workplace above Grand Rounds Brew Pub, to accommodate business progression. In 2016, the group moved into their brand new, current office space in the Conley-Maass-Downs building, the first complex in the Destination Medical Center’s Discovery Square District.

 BrandHoot brainstorming session.

BrandHoot brainstorming session.

The BrandHoot team, now grown to ten members, celebrated their 2000th day of business this June.

To commemorate these days of growth in the Rochester community, BrandHoot is holding an open house in their new downtown office space on Friday, August 18th. The event will include hors d’oeuvres, local drinks, Legos, and fun on the BrandHoot indoor rock climbing wall.

Nordstrom said that hard work, vision, attention to quality and customer service, and a good team are essential components of BrandHoot’s success over the years.

“My wife, family, God, and the Rochester community always deserve my appreciation as well. Starting and growing a business is a very tough journey. But it’s all worth it, especially with great people by your side,” he explained.

BrandHoot’s success does not stop with the 2000+ day count. The business is among only seventeen finalists for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Dream Big Small Business of the Year Awards; BrandHoot is a finalist for the Community Excellence Award for their leadership and community engagement.

 New BrandHoot office space in the Conley-Maass-Downs building.

New BrandHoot office space in the Conley-Maass-Downs building.

The award winner will receive a $25,000 cash prize and recognition at the 2017 Small Business Summit, held September 10th through the 13th, in Washington, D.C.

“It’s exciting to be able to celebrate five years of growth and success in Rochester. And being up for a national small business of the year award is an unexpected honor. We’ve worked so hard from day one, it’s nice to be able to spend a few moments to sit back, reflect, and celebrate,” Nordstrom noted.

To celebrate this accomplishment and involve the community, BrandHoot is holding a drawing to give away one free event ticket to the U.S. Chamber Dream Big Event, valued at $500. Click here to enter the drawing. A winner will be announced by Tuesday, August 15th.

BrandHoot has cut its teeth in Rochester. Now, Nordstrom wants to see more entrepreneurs in this city just start something. He’s happy to connect with entrepreneurs to bounce ideas or share lessons learned.

Nordstrom advises others to take risks, and above all else, to not give up when things get difficult.

“It’s going to be hard mentally, physically, and emotionally. Make sure you surround yourself with good people from all angles, to help keep you grounded and give you advice, even when you may not ask for it,” he advised.

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.

Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Vic Gundotra Shares Stories of Risk, Uncertainty, and Failure with Rochester Startup Community

 From left to right: Dr. Dave Albert, Vic Gondotra, and the author. Photo courtesy of Jamie Sundsbak.

From left to right: Dr. Dave Albert, Vic Gondotra, and the author. Photo courtesy of Jamie Sundsbak.

It was my immense pleasure to be asked to interview Vic Gundotra and Dr. Dave Albert last week at this event “A Conversation with Vic Gundotra.” Thanks so much to Jamie Sundsbak of Collider Coworking for this opportunity, which I will never forget.

Last week, the Rochester community was privileged to hear from Vic Gundotra and Dr. Dave Albert, senior leaders at the Mountain View, California healthtech company AliveCor. The event was organized by Collider Coworking and sponsored by Rochester Home Infusion and Mayo Clinic Ventures.

Both Gundotra and Albert are entrepreneurial leaders with extensive careers in disruptive technology. Albert, Founder of AliveCor, left academic medicine in the late 1980s to launch his first company. At that time, he already held fifty-seven patents and had sold three inventions. An expert in startup growth, Albert sold three companies before beginning AliveCor.

The journey of Gundotra, CEO and President of AliveCor, is just ever so slightly different. Gundotra, a man of Indian heritage, said his parents expected him to have one of two jobs.

“You can either be an engineer or a doctor,” he explained.

Instead, Gundotra became interested in coding during high school and figured out how to redirect the graphics buffer of his video game, the 1980s classic Lode Runner, to the LPT port of his printer.

“I had never been cool in my life until the day I went to school and my book covers had screen shots of video games. And people talked to me! It was amazing!” he reminisced.

These coding skills eventually became very useful when meeting Bill Gates during Gundotra’s time at George Washington University. Gundotra dropped out of college in the middle of his freshman year to join, as his mother called it, “that Meekrosoft company.”

Gundotra entered the tech world of Microsoft in 1991, just a few years after the company’s IPO. He says it was “Bill [Gates’] little company” at that time. “It was all driven by Bill. Startups are driven by their founders and culture is driven by their founders.”

Gundotra said people forget that Microsoft was a company under siege at that time. The business spent six years prior to the IPO pushing Windows, which was not successful then, and was going through a very public separation from IBM. Gundotra explained that IBM had more people in one building than were employed by all of Microsoft at that time, “which is how I got hired,” he explained. “Nobody wanted to work at Microsoft. The hiring standards were very low. Bill was just desperate for any engineer.”

In the early 1990s, there was no Microsoft Office. No Microsoft NT. The company essentially bet everything on Windows 3.0 in 1990, which was thankfully very successful.

“Everyone forgets those early days when Microsoft was struggling and it wasn’t clear that we were going to be successful,” said Gundotra.

Gundotra spent fifteen years at Microsoft, eventually working up to the position of General Manager, and was responsible for the overall platform and all of Windows development. He launched the very first developer’s conference, called the PDC, a precursor to today’s Worldwide Developers Council and Goggle I/O, and one of the first efforts to build a community of platform developers.

However, Gundotra famously “got sideways with Bill [Gates] because [Gundotra] believed in the internet. Bill did not believe in the internet.” Gates insisted that the internet was not a platform, but instead was a series of webpages with limited capability.

In 2007, Gundotra got courted by Google, also during the early stages of development, and left Microsoft for a business that he says was essentially just a search company at the time. While at Google, Gundotra ran Google Maps for mobile and all mobile application development. In the early stages, both his Gmail and Google Maps teams consisted of only five people.

Eventually, Gundotra became responsible for all the social efforts for Google, an attempt to stop top talent leakage to Facebook, leading the drive on projects like Google Photos and Google+. Neither product was as successful as the business hoped.

“Google does not get social. Google is the most anti-social company there is,” Gundotra admitted. Google failed to comprehend, and Facebook clearly saw, that people wanted their social networks prioritized.

“Facebook really understood what matters to people the most is other people. Like Microsoft missed the web…I think Google really missed social.”

Please check back in tomorrow for the second half of this story, where Vic Gundotra and Dr. Dave Albert speak about AliveCor and a “tsunami” they say will revolutionize healthcare as we know it.

Press Release: All American Games and GoRout Announce an All-American Partnership

ROCKAWAY, NJ (April 20, 2017) – All American Games today announced a partnership with GoRout, the on-field wearable playmaking technology for football teams across the country.

GoRout is the only playmaking technology that combines intelligent software and on-field wearable products to enhance practice for high school, college, and professional football teams. U.S. Army All-Americans will use GoRout products to help players track their practice performance and perfect their game.

GoRout brings several different products to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. One of the products to be included is Vue, football’s only on-field display technology worn by players. With Vue, coaches send digital play calls, coaching tips, and assignments to every player instantly. Players select their position, see the play, and execute perfectly.

At the NFL’s 1st and Future Competition at Super Bowl LI, GoRout was named the “Most Innovative Athlete Communication Technology” in football. In addition, GoRout was awarded “Product of the Year” by Football Scoop in both 2016 and 2017. GoRout is currently being used by some of the best high schools, FCS/FBS colleges, and professional football teams in America.

For 18 consecutive years, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl has been the nation’s premier high school sporting event and serves as the preeminent launching pad for America’s future college and NFL stars. Odell Beckham Jr., Andrew Luck, Patrick Peterson, Adrian Peterson, Ezekiel Elliott, and Christian McCaffrey made their national debuts as U.S. Army All- Americans. A total of 330 U.S. Army All-American Bowl alumni have been selected in NFL Drafts. The 2017 U.S. Army All-American Bowl drew a record crowd of 40,568 to the Alamodome and was watched by more than 5 million unique viewers on NBC.

For more information on GoRout, visit gorout.com and noscoutcards.gorout.com. Connect with all GoRout activity at fb.com/gorouttech, or at the official Twitter (@Go_Rout) and Instagram (@Go_Rout) accounts.

For more information on All American Games, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and its related events, visit usarmyallamericanbowl.com, goarmy.com/events/aab, allamericangames.com, and footballuniversity.org.

Connect with all #ArmyBowl activity at fb.com/ArmyAllAmerican, or at the official Twitter (@ArmyAllAmerican) and Instagram (@armyallamericanbowl) accounts.

For more information contact:

Mike Ulatoski

All American  Games

[E] mulatoski@allamericangames.com

[O] 973 2981103 [C] 203 808 6601

Spark DJ Utilizes Artificial Intelligence and Data Science to Set the Bar for DJing

 Photo courtesy of The Commission.

Photo courtesy of The Commission.

Spark DJ aims to disrupt the music entertainment industry by “replacing DJs with data science.” The app allows for live curation of music and seamless transitions between songs to keep a party going, delivering high quality music every time. Spark DJ earned accolades at both Minnesota Cup and Beta.MN and recently told their story at 1 Million Cups Rochester. The Spark DJ founders will showcase the app tomorrow night and invite all of Rochester to come out for the party.

Spark DJ creators John Boss and James Jones both have a deep love of music. Boss, a New Jersey native, began DJing at age thirteen after being gifted hand-me-down DJ equipment from a favorite cousin, a DJ in Pittsburgh. Boss would host parties for kids, as a kid himself, and even DJed a Gap store opening.

Jones, a self-described “data nerd,” was interested in the construction of music and beats. While in college, he needed a job but was limited on time while pursuing a dual degree in engineering and economics. He made an extensive list of ways to earn cash as a student, which included anything from cutting grass to day trading. Jones enjoyed DJing and could “spin for like three to four hours at a time.” He found that DJing was by far the best return on investment per hour for a college student.

“I was already into music and then when I started DJing, people really liked what I was doing,” Jones explained. He had the opportunity to open for some major acts like Big Sean, Girl Talk, and Bones Thugs-N-Harmony.

Boss and Jones both got to be such in-demand DJs that they had too many gigs. Both worked to solve this problem in amazingly unique ways. Boss started Apollo Music Group, a Rochester-based DJ management service, where he could vet and hire top-rate DJs to staff his increasing number of bookings.

“I was the weird one where I was like, I’m going to make this algorithmic clone of myself and try to use that instead,” Jones said.

Jones actually got hired on by Boss to DJ with Apollo Music Group. “I was telling him about this idea. And he got really excited about it and then I got really excited about it,” Jones explained. And it all snowballed from there to create Spark DJ.

The Spark DJ app uses artificial intelligence to deliver live-curated music right from a cell phone, providing “high quality music, mixed well, every time.” Hosts choose their favorite artists on the app and set up parameters for guests. Party-goers can then connect with the app using geolocation to submit song requests.

Spark DJ is not meant to replace DJs but to set the standard for DJing.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to compete with someone who’s really mastered their craft and is really taking a very artistic approach to what they’re doing and engaging the crowd, creating a really unique experience. Those guys, those are guys we want to be as DJs,” said Jones.

The pair explained how the bar for DJing was so much higher twenty years ago, when you had to buy tons of equipment like records, CDs, and a turntable. “The talent level at the time was respected. It was a craft,” explained Boss.

Now with MP3s, people can just download songs onto their laptop and start playing music, which has created a surplus of subpar DJs.

Spark DJ aims to raise the bar for all DJs. “If you can’t DJ better than Spark DJ…you shouldn’t be a DJ,” explained Jones.

Boss and Jones are now both in Spark DJ full time, learning the ropes of entrepreneurship. Before launching the startup, Jones was a statistics analyst at the Target headquarters in Minneapolis and Boss a financial analyst at IBM. Although both studied some degree of business or economics in college, Boss said you “can throw that out the door on many occasions.” Right now, the founders are connecting with other entrepreneurs, learning from their mistakes, and understanding how to navigate the startup lifestyle.

Plugging themselves into the entrepreneurial community has paid off big. Spark DJ was a High-Tech division finalist last year in the Minnesota Cup, Minnesota’s largest startup competition. Just last week, the pair were Golden iPod champions at the Beta.MN Startup Showcase in Minneapolis. Boss and Jones said these experiences were validating and helped them connect with people who loved what they were doing.

“It’s easy to go in a corner and code…but it doesn’t work like that. We’re all connected. …Going through the Minnesota Cup really helped us meet a lot of different people and learn a lot of stuff that we probably wouldn’t have learned just sitting in the corner,” said Jones.

Now the founders are deciding where to base the company, Minneapolis or Rochester.

“[Rochester’s] a little more in its infancy stage. But it’s in a healthy, fun one. It’s fun to be here. It’s fun to see what’s happening…you start to really see things,” said Boss. “If we can give people hope to stay in Rochester and start something great, that’s something that would be exciting for us as well.”

Boss and Jones invite everyone to link up with the founders and try out the Spark DJ app at their showcase event tomorrow night. The party starts in the Bleu Duck Kitchen Event Space at 5PM and moves to The Doggery at 8PM. Click here for more information.

The Rochester Startup Part Ten: Perseverance is Key as PayGo Thrives in Collider Coworking Space

 PayGo founder Chris Peterson. Photo courtesy of PayGo.

PayGo founder Chris Peterson. Photo courtesy of PayGo.

About the author: Ryan Cardarella is a freelance writer who recently moved to Rochester after spending 12 years in Milwaukee.

This series is in partnership with Ambient House Productions, a Rochester based full service video production company specializing in high quality corporate, commercial, & promotional videos.

After nearly 15 years in the software business, PayGo founder Chris Peterson has proven able to consistently adapt in a market that continues to evolve.

Formed in Buffalo, Minn., PayGo is a point-of-sale (POS) software business that has served independent brick and mortar retailers since 2002. In addition to handling POS payments and many additional services, PayGo offers businesses the ability to track and control their inventory, provides robust data on customer interactions and purchases, and integrates stores with their website via the PayGoCart feature.

Through their diverse service offerings, PayGo built up a strong customer base and grew to employ 20 team members by 2008. However, just as the company introduced a product that addressed the emerging need for cloud-based software solutions, a crippling recession that hit small businesses particularly hard during that period knocked PayGo on its heels.

“Things happen in business and you just need to find a way to persevere,” Peterson said.

He responded by downsizing, as many of his clients were forced to close, and eventually relocated the PayGo office to Rochester, a move that has reinvigorated the organization.

After operating remotely for a time, PayGo joined downtown Rochester’s Collider Coworking space in November 2016, a move that appealed to Peterson as his company was once again ready to grow. Peterson has spent much of the last year updating PayGo’s cloud-based software and exploring additional IT services as the company continues to add staff and expand the breadth of their offerings.

“The flexibility of the space was appealing. It has everything we need,” Peterson said. “We feel like a startup again.”

Collider is an entrepreneurial hub that allows occupants to work, learn, and collaborate in a dynamic office setting. The open workspace includes desk and conference room areas, quiet rooms, and perhaps most importantly, a collaborative environment comprised of innovative, like-minded people that are helping to fuel entrepreneurial growth in Rochester.

“Operating out of Buffalo began to feel a bit isolating and there’s more programming in more relevant areas here,” Peterson said. “It’s been great to be around so many other like-minded people who are experiencing some of the same challenges.”

PayGo currently services a wide variety of clients, primarily independent retailers and owners of boutiques, arts and crafts stores, and consignment shops, which includes companies such as Happy Sleeper, Nina, Everyday Wines, and many more.

Looking ahead, Peterson is focused on developing a mobile app, increasing their customer base and providing additional value to that base, and continuing to improve the customer experience for the small businesses they serve.

“The industry continues to shift and we are exploring new ways for our software to appeal to and improve the customer experience,” he said.

The Rochester Startup Series is sponsored by:

Cameroonian Tech Leader Brings Community Building Expertise to Rochester

Kenneth Ngah, a seasoned web programmer from Cameroon, has learned exactly how to build a tech community. Along with other entrepreneurial pioneers, Kenneth leveraged the student population in Africa to build hyper-focused tech hubs to increase the local skill set and sustain tech expertise in the area. The tech founder has been in Rochester for three months and is exploring ways he can fit into the city’s evolving tech scene.

Kenneth grew up in the northwest region of Cameroon, a central African country that borders on the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo. He said his hometown was a mountainous region with a strong tourism draw. Cameroon has even earned the nickname “Africa in miniature” because of the country’s diverse climate and landscape. The area contains deserts, mountains, and even rainforests.

To leverage the strong tourism draw to his homeland, this tech entrepreneur founded a startup called LCMTours. Kenneth saw much “uncertainty about the tourism industry in Cameroon” with “the existence of clandestine tourism agencies and travel agencies.” He created LCMTours, soon to be re-branded as WandaGuides, to mitigate travelers’ fears and connect them with government recognized travel agencies. Registered agencies can sell their attractions on the LCM platform. Kenneth then works with these companies to create personalized itineraries and connect travelers to local guides before they even leave their home country.

Much of Kenneth’s early tech career was built on learning by doing. He developed a passion for computers early in life, even well before he knew what that fully meant. He felt a strong pull toward technology after creating his first Yahoo email address in the late 1990s and decided to pursue his passion through university studies. He left his home and traveled to the southwest region of Cameroon to study Computers and Communications Engineering at the University College of Technology in the town of Buea. While at the university, he obtained his very first web development contract from a hospital where his mother worked. Although he had no idea how to price the service at the time, this first step showed him that he could have a viable career in web development.

“It was so good for me, as a student, to do a job that would give me money without having to take money from parents,” he explained.

After his experience with the hospital, Kenneth founded a small web development agency with a friend. However, the pair could not land consistent web development contracts and ran out of money within six months. Around this time, he also became aware of a growing number of people working on tech startups around Buea. To get his feet wet, Kenneth worked several web programming jobs for free for some of these emerging local businesses.

Even after graduating from the University College of Technology, Kenneth says he never had any interest in a traditional job with a large company. He instead launched directly into the freelancing field as a web programmer and started building websites through contract work. Kenneth developed into quite the international businessman without ever having to leave Cameroon. He built websites for Danish and German companies. He even worked on a neuroscience website for a researcher at the University of Louisville.

His tech endeavors eventually led Kenneth to meet former Microsoft Software Design Engineer and American investor, Bill Zimmerman, who was building tech hubs around Cameroon. Zimmerman created ActivSpaces, a tech network in Cameroon that contained two coworking spaces, one of which was in Buea, plus a six-month intensive tech accelerator program. The goal was to transform viable tech ideas into sustainable businesses. Kenneth explained that many startups in Cameroon did not have available financials to pay for space in coworking facilities. Instead, ActivSpaces opened their doors to these emerging entrepreneurs for free and took 3% equity in the companies when they became successful.

In 2013, Kenneth moved into a Community Manager role with ActivSpaces. He helped to create entrepreneurial-focused events and raise awareness of the space for interested startups. As the tech community in Buea grew, he created even larger events and increased interactions with the local university system, especially through a developing local Google Ambassador system.

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While Kenneth and other pioneers of the tech community in Buea saw many students going through the university system, they did not observe an increase in applicable tech skills in the community. He says the students just weren’t acquiring transferrable tools in the education system, even through there was strong interest in tech entrepreneurism.

“I began to think that in the university, there are students who want to do practice, they want to do internships into startups,” he explained. “We realized that students want to learn. Many people want to do better. But they just don’t know how to come about it.”

Kenneth and a team of tech entrepreneurs started to build tech communities around very specific web technologies to increase skill sets and bolster tech development locally. They established three successful hyper-focused communities, including JavaScript and WordPress hubs. They started to place students into internships with developing tech startups in the community. Kenneth says the students acquired more transferrable skills this way than they ever did in the education system. They encouraged students to become self-independent without ever having to seek a job in a large company.

“Technology entrepreneurship is becoming very vibrant in my city because students are looking to people like us who…didn’t look for a job but kept on striving. And they saw that these guys are trying to do some amazing things,” he explained.

Although Kenneth and many others have done groundbreaking work for entrepreneurs in Cameroon, the path is still boulder-strewn. Cameroon is a bilingual country, split between English and French speaking sectors. Although the country has been historically riddled by political corruption, it’s usually economically stable. Increased tensions have built up between the small English-speaking population and the larger French-speaking sectors, who also control the government. Violent and more frequent protests broke out over the last couple months, leading the government to cut off Internet access for several weeks to major English-speaking regions of Cameroon, crippling startups and business owners. Kenneth said this economic uncertainnty and the prevalent language barriers in the country make it easier for entrepreneurs to just leave the area.

He explained that the tech community in Cameroon is generally very cut off from media exposure. No one outside of the region understands the developments taking place there, which limits investment opportunities and growth. But Kenneth has faith in the community that he has been so instrumental in building.

“Despite the fact that the economic situation in the country is not good, the zeal to become an entrepreneur is really, really good,” he said. “Entrepreneurs who really survive are really tough because the economic situation makes it difficult and the government rules really make it difficult.”  

It’s a bit ironic that the founder of a tourism startup never had much of an impulse to see the world. “But I always thought to myself, if I want to travel abroad, I should come to the US,” Kenneth explained. He recently got the opportunity to obtain a one year visa to the US and is staying with a family member in Rochester while he continues to discover the right place to spend his time in the country. Right now, he’s been exploring the tech scene around Rochester and seeing where he can best plug into the community.