General Entrepreneurship

Local Social Club Weirdcards Aims to Enhance Community and Charitable Giving through Games

Image courtesy of Weirdcards.

Image courtesy of Weirdcards.

Rochester group Weirdcards is a charitable club seeking to increase social interaction and enhance giving by uniting people through a love of game playing.

Weirdcards began as an informal gathering of people who liked to play cards and tabletop games around a break room table at Mayo Clinic. This small meeting over lunch eventually got so big, the gathering was moved into founding member Jason Egginton’s basement to play Magic: The Gathering, a trading card game modelled after fantasy role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. The group used these first larger gatherings as fundraisers for both national and local nonprofits.

“But the catch was once we did it, people wanted to keep doing it and we quickly outgrew my basement,” Egginton explained.

After several repeated basement successes, the group hoped to challenge people to perform acts of charity more frequently, not just once a year. They wondered, if they set up a website that was always “on” and hosted more frequent fundraising events, would people buy into the idea?

To pursue this question, the group formed a 501(c)7 social club called Weirdcards in the fall of 2016 to bring like-minded people together monthly to raise money for a local cause. Since that time, the group has also spun out a 501(c)3 educational nonprofit called MagiKids to teach children how to play Magic: The Gathering through donated cards and other gaming items.

Egginton says the social club now runs itself through an extensive svolunteer network and gets 25-30K hits per week on their website. Weirdcards and MagiKids have come at a vital time, Egginton explained, when people want to get themselves and their kids away from screen time and cell phones and interacting more with others. MagiKids is engrained in the curriculum at Kellogg Middle School and is part of the local Boys & Girls Club.

The entrenchment of game playing in these organizations, Egginton says, has felt really good.

“It has felt really meaningful and it has felt really impactful. We’re doing what we love to do,” he explained.

Weirdcards is 100% volunteer led.

“We have been very fortunate to pick up club members who have skill sets that come in just at the right time,” Egginton explained.

The organization has about forty core volunteers who are very diverse in terms of age, gender, race, and skill set. Egginton says the biggest success of Weirdcards has been the cohesion and flexibility of this team of volunteers.  These dedicated members have been key to managing the rapid rate of growth the club is currently experiencing. 

“The appetite for whatever it is that we’re doing here is formidable,” he explained. 

In less than three years, the group went from meeting around a lunch table to attending thirty person events to now having website traffic of over 100K people from around the world each month.

Weirdcards has also established their own format to play Magic: The Gathering, which they call Oathbreaker. This style of play, Weirdcards believes, enhances the creativity of game players to enable a fun, casual interaction and values the comradery of the game over winning.

With 30 million Magic: The Gathering players across the globe, Egginton says it’s a major win to see Oathbreaker succeed and not be crowded out by other game playing formats.

“Embedded in the speed of growth is this idea that Weirdcards isn’t just a bunch of do-gooders. We’ve actually developed a format for a very complex game. And we are thought leaders, which is crazy cool,” he explained. 

Weirdcards and MagiKids are currently part of the Rochester Area Foundation, an incubator space for nonprofits.

Weirdcard’s success thus far has enabled the group to raise “a lot of money for local causes, which is obviously a great feeling,” Egginton explained.

Some members in the group, Egginton explained, work close to full time on Weirdcards. He wants to remain open to ideas that will help to facilitate growth, including potential hiring of staff to help run operations of the nonprofit and social club.


Where Are They Now? Escape Challenge Rochester

Photo courtesy of Escape Challenge Rochester.

Photo courtesy of Escape Challenge Rochester.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press Release: Local Veteran, Mother, and Entrepreneur Makes Dream a Reality

Busy Baby LLC owner, Beth Fynbo. Photo courtesy of Busy Baby LLC.

Busy Baby LLC owner, Beth Fynbo. Photo courtesy of Busy Baby LLC.

Local mother Beth Fynbo possesses many attributes necessary to be a successful entrepreneur. With a military background, a degree in business management, and unstoppable determination, Fynbo always knew she wanted to run her own business someday. Yet it wasn’t until last year that her skills aligned with a passion and her entrepreneurship began. 

Shortly after the birth of her child, Fynbo dined out with friends and their children. The continuous dropping of toys and food was a distraction to the conversation.

“That night I scoured the internet looking for something I could buy to keep my baby busy in the restaurant when we go out to eat,” said Fynbo, creator of Busy Baby Mat. “I couldn’t find it, so I created it!” 

Resourceful Fynbo took to making her first mat with household items and soon learned it was well worth pursuing. The now professionally produced prototype is a silicone mat with suction cups underneath and a proprietary tether system for attaching toys. The mat rolls up for easy transport and when used also provides a clean, germ-free surface for the child. 

Photo courtesy of Busy Baby LLC.

Photo courtesy of Busy Baby LLC.

After market testing, it is clear the Busy Baby Mat is an answer to many meal-time issues.

“I had the opportunity to try the Busy Baby Mat with my 10 month old daughter, and it made for a relaxing family outing,” said Missy Johnson, product tester. “The tethers did a great job keeping her favorite toys within her reach and off the floor. With food and toys front and center, she was content and allowed Mom and Dad to enjoy more conversation.” 

A Kickstarter campaign launched on Saturday, September 1st to make this dream a reality. Reaching a goal of 3,000 preorders positions this product to move on to manufacturing allowing the Busy Baby Mat to hit shelves by the early 2019. Visit and follow Busy Baby on Facebook to learn more and support this local entrepreneur’s dream. 


Busy Baby Mat, LLC is a product development company finding solutions to keep baby busy. Founded by Beth Fynbo in 2017, the company’s first product Busy Baby Mat will launch upon completion of a successful funding campaign. 

New Childcare Facility Opens in Rochester


A new Rochester childcare facility has officially opened its doors. Eureka Kids- located on 9th Street NW- hosted its grand opening on July 24th, officially beginning childcare operations on July 30th.

This 7,600 square foot new build facility is owned by Mayo Clinic husband and wife IT specialists Hema Sai Kishore and Mangesh Mane.


Eureka Kids provides childcare and educational services to children aged six weeks to five-years-old. The center is heavily focused on early education, utilizing a STEM based approach- called S.M.A.R.T.E.R.- that encourages independent learning and creative thinking skills.

Eureka Kids can facilitate care and education for one hundred children. The center houses classrooms, a commercial kitchen, an outdoor play area, private nursing room for mothers, and much more.

Enrollment is currently open for infants, toddlers, and preschool aged children.

Downtown Boutique Offers Rochester Opportunity to Shop with Purpose


The past twelve months have involved a sizeable amount of hard work and hustle for Soul Purpose Boutique Owner Kristie Moore as she’s launched her vision.

“Everything we’ve done this year has been a brick a day,” Moore explained.

Soul Purpose Boutique opened its doors last November in downtown Rochester, providing a different type of shopping experience. This retail establishment aims to show that “newer, bigger, and better are seldom as satisfying to the soul as artistically repurposed, smaller, and reimagined.” Some of the clothing, jewelry, and home goods in the shop may look like items that could be purchased anywhere. But every selection at the boutique was carefully curated and sourced to empower and improve the lives of both the artist creator and the consumer through fairly traded, hand crafted, and repurposed goods.


Moore was deeply impacted by the mission of “shopping with purpose” through her church, where she was exposed to the value of fair trade to sustain and improve lives. She logged ten years of experience in retail working with her sister at Refashion Consigned Furniture and Clothing; the stores are now literally linked together and share the same door on South Broadway. After her time at Refashion, Moore spent several years at home raising her children, but missed owning her own business, building those relationships, and just creating.

After her kids went to sleep at night, she would stay awake researching socially impactful organizations on the internet, familiarizing herself with their stories and purpose. She ended up filling over ninety pages of information on her findings.

“I could not even really go to bed and sleep at night. I felt like people didn’t even know about [these organizations],” Moore said. “I firmly believe that the average person wants to do good, but they don’t always know how and they don’t have access to it.”

To fill this void, she launched Soul Purpose Boutique in 2016, focusing on artists, organizations, and missions that empowered women and put spending dollars toward their support, both locally and globally.


The greater goal of the boutique is to provide creative, unique clothing, jewelry, and home goods of deep meaning and value; items that are healthy and safe, pay a fair wage to their creator, and are ethically sourced. The store aims to provide balance between what looks good and what actually is…good.

Often these items can’t be sold at the same price points as products in big-box stores, Moore explained. In part, Soul Purpose Boutique educates consumers to be mindful of where their goods are coming from and how they are created, to use their spending power for the greater good of at least one person.

Soul Purpose Boutique sells items from Minnesotan artists like Amber Engelhardt, Joyful Revival, Allison Marie Design, and Creative Gathering. The boutique also stocks products from Art 2 Heart, a non-profit in Hamel, Minnesota. This organization partners with the Beads of Faith mission in Peru to support an artist co-op for women, with the sales money directly impacting their families and communities.

Customers can also find items from national organizations like The Shine Project at Soul Purpose Boutique. This Phoenix-based non-profit helps inner city students create handmade jewelry. If a student continues with the program, they are eligible for scholarships to become a first-generation college graduate in their family.

The shop also sources handbags and accessories from the New York-based Unshattered, an organization that assists women in recovery. Soul Purpose Boutique additionally carries products from Thistle Farms, an organization that helps female survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction to create and sell natural home and body products, and Women's Bean Project, a non-profit that teaches chronically unemployed women how to create nourishing food products, which are then sold across the U.S.  

IMG_1204 copy.jpg

Now that one year is in the books for Soul Purpose Boutique, Moore is learning how to educate even more people about shopping with purpose and being more intentional with their spending power.

“I wish I had done somethings a little differently. Every day is success and failure,” Moore explained.

Moving forward, she aims to be very deliberate with each moment she has to grow her business, share its larger purpose, and shine light on the talented people supported by the goods sold within its walls.

Great Planes Aviation Gaining Traction with Rochester Flight School


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0897 copy.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what it does save on is time.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Diverge Part 3.3: What Drives Jackie and Ryan Steiner

"We did a lot of footwork in the beginning for marketing this place because we funds to market with really. So it was all leg work." - Jackie Steiner, Owner of UNRAVELED Escape Room

Today we tell the story of Ryan and Jackie Steiner, a married couple who took a huge risk in leaving their careers and hustled to build their escape room business in Rochester, Minn.

Diverge Part 3.1: The Husband and Wife Team bringing a New Entertainment Option to Rochester

Welcome to the next part in our Diverge series, where we tell the stories of four Rochester entrepreneurs who left long careers and took significant risks to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. This week, we tell the story of Ryan and Jackie Steiner, the chiropractor and massage therapist behind UNRAVELED Escape Room.


This series was made possible through a partnership with Rochester Home Infusion, the only home infusion provider in southeastern Minnesota.


Rochester entrepreneurs and husband and wife team Ryan and Jackie Steiner had always owned their own business. Five years ago, Ryan opened a chiropractic firm in the city, focused on auto injury. He met his future wife, Jackie, during a search for a massage and rehabilitation specialist for the practice.

“We’ve been on our own, being entrepreneurs ever since,” Ryan explained.

Although the Steiners were their own bosses, running the chiropractic business was a major financial struggle; they were grinding just to make ends meet, even shopping at the local food bank for several months. The market in Rochester was too saturated for another chiropractic practice. “And unless you’re number one or number two, it’s a struggle,” Ryan said. 

A career change for the Steiners came out of necessity. They both loved their careers, but they just were not happy where they were in life compared to where they expected to be. After five years of struggling, the couple was at their breaking point and knew it was time for a drastic change to improve their quality of life.

“It was awful. But our mindset, I believe, was what carried us through,” Ryan explained. “We’ve always been very positive people and always believed that we were going to do well.”

The pair had previously been exposed to an emerging entertainment concept called an escape room during a business trip.

“We always wanted to do something like [an escape room]. And it just stayed as an idea in our minds and we didn’t act on it until the struggle of where we were at in our other profession was really hitting home,” Jackie related.

The pair identified an immense opportunity in Rochester for a different type of entertainment, something apart from the handful of bars, movie theaters, and bowling alleys that currently serve the community’s needs.

Last year, the Steiners spent their honeymoon driving from Minnesota to California for eighteen days in their van- even sleeping in the car to save money- while they researched top escape rooms along the way and germinated ideas for their own endeavor. They listened to hours of motivational and entrepreneurial CDs a la Tony Robbins, Darren Hardy, and Jim Rohn to pump them up about their own idea.

“That was truly the highlight of our whole honeymoon,” Jackie said. “It was so powerful.”

Encouraged by their trip, the newlyweds opened their own escape room business, UNRAVELED Escape Room, in Rochester on December 1, 2016.

For those readers who have never visited an escape room, here’s the low down.

An escape room is a sixty-minute challenge where a group of four to ten players get locked in a themed room and have to find hidden clues, solve puzzles, and “escape” within one hour. UNRAVELED Escape Room currently has three themed concepts including ‘Escape from Alcatraz’, ‘Spirits of the Asylum’, and the newly opened ‘CSI: Rochester’.

After the honeymoon, the Steiners had high expectations for what they could accomplish with their escape room business. From September until the business opened in December, they scouted out locations, developed the name, worked on the business plan, and embarked on a guerrilla-style promotional campaign.

“We did a lot of footwork in the beginning marketing this place because we had…no funds to market with really. So, it was all leg work,” Jackie explained.

The newlyweds spent many days last year, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve, placing fliers on cars all over Rochester. At the time, Jackie was pregnant with their daughter, with her stomach so big she could barely reach the cars’ windshields.

“It was make it or break it for sure,” Ryan said.

With all their prep work, planning, and marketing, the couple had high expectations for UNRAVELED Escape Room when its doors first opened, believing that the operation would take off immediately.

“It didn’t happen like that,” Ryan explained. “That was just the biggest dagger to the heart. …It just felt like, man, did we really take a misstep here? Did we just pour tons of money into something that is just going to flop and we’re going to lose everything? You know, we took a huge gamble.”

The biggest challenge the Steiners faced was building momentum with UNRAVELED Escape Room. But they didn’t have to wait too long. After about six months the concept was gaining steam.

“So really we have quite a lot to be grateful for,” Jackie said.

For others seeking to become entrepreneurs or looking to be more fulfilled with their work, Ryan advised just making slow, steady progress.

“If you’re waiting for the time to be right and you’re waiting for all your ideas to be perfect before you launch your business, you’ll never launch your business,” he explained.

Having the right mindset is also essential when embarking on a new career or entrepreneurial endeavor.

“You have to really believe in what you’re about to do,” Jackie advised. “And then don’t second guess yourself.”

Rochester Native and Former US Army Ranger Launches Executive Protection Business Ehni Enterprises

Photo courtesy of Ehni Enterprises.

Photo courtesy of Ehni Enterprises.

Rochester native Bryan Ehni always felt the need to protect people. The former US Army Ranger launched his first business, Ehni Enterprises, last October to “protect the life, reputation, and property of our clients with real, physical security.” Ehni and his team capitalize on technology advancements and continual training to meet customer needs. Ehni sees Rochester as a prime location to germinate his business and prepare for the future.

Ehni Enterprises provides executive protection for foreign dignitaries, celebrities, and corporate executives in a manner consistent with the highest models in business security.

From a young age, Ehni was driven to protect others. This mission began in the second grade after standing up to older bullies for a childhood friend and later motivated him to pursue a degree in law enforcement. After graduation, Ehni enlisted in the United States Army and attended the Ranger Indoctrination Program, a Special Operations selection process for the 75th Ranger Regiment. Ehni was selected and served for four years in the 75th Ranger Regiment.

“I enjoyed the idea that I could make a difference,” he explained.

The germ of an idea for Ehni Enterprises was conceived early in his career, right after completion of his law enforcement training. While serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment, Ehni identified a unique opportunity to leverage his military skill set toward this personal mission of protection. Once hatched, the concept for Ehni Enterprises grew and evolved in his mind for the next seven years.

Apart from working in the hardware department at Menards and selling Cutco knives door to door, Ehni really had no formalized sales or business training. To fill this gap in his educational experience, he enrolled in the business management and business administration program at Winona State University. He spent the next few years learning and continuously sharpening his business plan with the guidance of advisers such as Dr. Hamid Akbari at the university.

Now, Ehni Enterprises is seeking a foothold in Rochester as the “first choice for executive protection.” Ehni’s team is a mixture of highly skilled, experienced former military and law enforcement individuals on both the executive and protective sides of the business.

Ehni sees an immense need for increased executive protection in Rochester, and on a worldwide scale, due to evolving risks and a changing geopolitical climate.

Photo courtesy of Ehni Enterprises.

Photo courtesy of Ehni Enterprises.

“Even though Rochester is a relatively safe city, it is growing because of Destination Medical Center. With growth comes the need for additional vigilance,” he explained.

Ehni says that Rochester currently does not offer services that provide an adequate level of protection for these individuals.

Executive protection is certainly a challenging market to break into, but Ehni has been persistent. A market analysis and assessment of the need in Rochester for his services posed its own unique challenges; information about the presence of potential clients in the city is highly sensitive and difficult to obtain. Ehni successfully collaborated with key members of the Rochester business community to identify local opportunities and needs for his specialized protection services.

Ehni says his experience in Army Special Operations prepared him well for business, where you’re “faced on a daily basis with challenges that you don’t know how to deal with.” To others interested in launching their own business Ehni says, “You have to be willing to push yourself to the limits and then beyond what you think you can do.”

For more information on Ehni Enterprises, please call (507) 251-2309, send an email to, or check out the website at

Fuse Digital Creative Services Takes Next Step with Grand Opening of New Office Space

Today one member of the Rochester entrepreneurial community, Fuse Digital Creative Services, made another large step forward with the grand opening of their new office- located in The Vault- and ribbon cutting ceremony with the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fuse Digital Creative Services was launched last January by local entrepreneur Jeff Bell after a long career in creative services at Mayo Clinic.


Bell helps large and small businesses “interpret visually” and successfully incorporate design, branding, and creative innovation into their business model. Fuse Digital Creative Services is tightly linked to the Rochester entrepreneurial community, performing recent work with entities such as Med City FC, Destination Medical Center, GoRout, and Soul Purpose Boutique.

Bell says he looks forward to the day when people refer to his business simply by the word “Fuse”.

Beyond the Brand: How to Form Deep Connections to Consumers

“Without branding, there’s no connection between what you want people to think about your organization and what they actually do,” explained Sarah Miller, Owner of White Space, a Rochester-based company specializing in brand strategy, brand identity, and brand experience. We’re branding our company, our community, and ourselves constantly, regardless of our awareness. To make a real connection to potential consumers, and be successful with branding efforts, Miller says we need to tell a deeper story and create an experience to attract and retain consumers with similar vision.

Miller, a native of Plainview, Minn., has a twelve-year career in graphic design, branding, and marketing. When her son was six months old, she left the safety net of an established graphic design firm in Rochester and struck out on her own, with no real plans or financial stability.

“I ultimately just had to make a change in my life. Sometimes we wake up and we think that life’s just too short,” she said.

Miller loves design, but is passionate about branding. She’s helped local businesses like Jimmy’s Salad Dressings and Dips, Limb Lab, and Rochester Downtown Alliance think “brand first” to tell their stories.

Today, the term “brand” can encompass multiple things like a business name, logo, marketing, and company culture. A brand is all these things. But foremost, it’s your reputation as a business. Miller explains brand is how yourself, your company, and your community makes people feel. It’s the experience people have after an interaction with these entities. This includes immediate, visual perceptions a consumer has with a website, brochure, or perhaps even the look of a community or town. These components make up the “identity” portion of a brand.  

But to gain a deeper, lasting connection, Miller says consumers have to buy in to the emotional component of the brand.

Many people, even experts in the field, often fail to appreciate the difference between branding and marketing, Miller explained. Both, she said, are essential for a business and are closely intertwined.

“Branding is your ‘why’. Marketing is ‘how,’” she said. Branding is a long-term process that builds loyalty. Marketing is a short-term tactic that generates response.

Miller segments marketing into two steps: the identity phase and the visual phase. Branding plays a key role in each stage.

The first portion of marketing, the identity phase, is a time of self-discovery where a business builds its foundation, sets goals, and determines a core audience it would like to reach. Brand story and brand identity are a critical part of this process. These are the “why” components.

“Why do you exist as a company? As a person, what is your purpose on earth?” Miller explained. “What’s the story that makes you stand out versus someone else?”

After the identity phase, where the story behind the business is built, comes the “fun, refreshing” phase where the company visually comes to life.

“But before we get dressed, we have to figure out what we’re dressing,” Miller explained.

Now in the visual stage of marketing, the business determines how they want to be seen by others. This includes things like the website, business cards, pamphlets, the layout and décor of the office building, even the way we dress. These immediate impressions, the visual identity, are the tip of the iceberg, Miller explained, the tiny fraction of the business above water that everybody can see.

However, the largest part of that iceberg, the submerged, subliminal portion, makes up the foundation and base, the real structure and identity. For a business, this unseen portion is the core, purpose, and values of a company. It’s the personality and vision of the business that helps to form strong, lasting connections with consumers and attracts like-minded people to work for the company.

It’s the brand.

Sharing this deeper vision of a business- the branding- is essential to position the story behind the company to the target audience and find this elusive connectivity. Miller says to reach this deeper relationship with potential consumers- to brand- requires purpose, personality, positioning, and promise.

“People don’t buy what you do. They don’t buy based upon your services, your amenities,” she explained. “It’s not about the product. It’s about the experience.”

Successful brands, like Apple and Harley-Davidson, have built a culture and community that people want to join. These brands have explicitly communicated their “why” to consumers and connected their deeper vision.

“How are you making conscious decision on your own brand?” Miller asked. People are already googling you, looking at your website, and searching your social media feeds.

“Don’t let other people tell your story. They’re going to do it in a thousand different ways. Maybe right. Maybe wrong. You tell your story,” she advised.

This talk on branding by Sarah Miller was part of the Marketing in the Morning series developed by Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA), a non-profit organization that serves businesses and communities in southeastern Minnesota. CEDA runs Marketing in the Morning sessions quarterly to help businesses grow and stay on top of the latest marketing techniques. This talk on branding can also be viewed on the CEDA Facebook page.  

Homegrown Penz Dental Care Places Relationships and Trust at Center of Business Plan

Youthful, patient-focused dentist Dr. Matt Penz has come home to Rochester to make his mark on the community. Penz and his wife, Kate, are sticking to their identity and core values and working to build their new practice, Penz Dental Care, patient by patient.

Every aspect of Penz Dental Care hinges around relationships and building trust in the community. It starts with the office itself. “I wanted people to feel like they were coming into a comfortable, homey, friendly environment,” Penz explained.

When walking into the Penz Dental Care office along 2nd Street SW, visitors are greeted with a cheery, bright blue and white waiting room with refurbished wood paneling and the Penz modern, tooth-like logo emblazoned on the wall. Plump couches, coffee, and HGTV help to mitigate any dental anxiety patients may be experiencing. Kate Penz herself mans the front desk and is the first point of contact. There are even massaging dental chairs to set the practice apart and help put patients’ minds at ease.

Penz says that dentistry is a very personal craft. He and his wife strive to make real human connections with their patients. “I didn’t want patients to feel like a number,” he explained.

Penz prides himself on the quality of his work and “how things turn out and how they look and how they function.”

“Sometimes it takes a little extra time to get it right. But you’re going to walk out of our office knowing that I did the right thing for you. Even if it puts me behind on the next patient!” he chuckled.

As a business owner, Penz obviously wants the practice to grow, but not at the expense of patient care. “I never want to compromise the quality or taking our time with building relationships and trust with patients,” he said.

Penz has purposefully grown his business slowly, gaining high quality patients and hiring staff that fit the vision he is trying to create. Penz Dental Care hasn’t sent out a plethora of mailers or first time specials. Instead, they are sticking to their core values of providing high quality patient care and creating personal, human connections with their patients. If you do this, Penz believes, “the rest of it will take care of itself.”

“If you focus on the bottom line all the time, you’re going to miss out on a lot of things,” he explained.

It’s essential to Penz to remain authentic and to attract patients in Rochester who are looking for their dental home. “We’re trying to tell a story. And we use social media as a window into our office,” he explained.

This authenticity also includes integration of his childhood sports passion into the practice. Penz played quarterback on the Mayo High School football team and continued in this position at nearby St. Olaf College. He hopes to funnel this passion to give back to the community of Rochester, a collection of people who he felt really helped to shape who he is today. Penz proudly showed me his in-house mouthgard machine. He personally fits custom mouthgards for local teams like Med City Freeze and MedCity Mafia and is undergoing further training to become a certified team dentist.

Penz says he always wanted to start his own practice. “I just had no idea how I was going to get there,” he explained. He did know, however, that Rochester was the only place he could ever imagine launching his own business.

Penz was working in an established dental practice in Chaska when he realized it was time to go all in on his dream.

“It’s hard to say, yep, we’re going to walk away from a steady income and jump in and take on this project,” explained Kate Penz, who admits she is more risk-averse. “2016 will go down in the books as being a little bit of an insane year.”

Penz and Kate began seriously talking about their plan in January of 2016. They viewed the office space in March and took over that location in July. After that, they traveled back and forth between Chaska and Rochester every Tuesday, the only day Penz was off work, to set up their new space. Luckily, the office had been in use by another dentist previously, allowing them to do in nine months what usually takes eighteen- and with less capital. Penz, Kate, and their two-year-old daughter moved to Rochester in August. In September, the doors to Penz Dental Care opened.

Throughout this whole time, Kate was pregnant with their second daughter, who was born in December.

Penz says he got the “entrepreneurial bug” from his father, who worked construction for many years in Rochester. Penz knew he wanted to build his own dental practice from scratch, rather than take over an existing practice.

“I knew myself well enough that I wanted more control over the environment, the atmosphere, the culture of my business,” he explained. He looked forward to putting together all the pieces of his new practice, including hiring the perfect staff for the culture he wished to create.

Kate explained that the first round of hiring was difficult. They had no office space yet. Instead, they had to meet with prospective employees in coffee shops. “People had to take a chance on us. They didn’t know if we were going to make it or not,” she explained.

As a new dental practice, their first month of opening was rough.

“You don’t know if patients are going to come in the door. If anybody’s going to call,” Kate explained. 

But Penz and his team knew it was going to take time to build the practice. They’ve made huge strides over the past seven months. Now, they’re starting to see patients come back for their second visit and continue to build relationships and trust with those people. Just this week, Penz Dental Care brought on a new dental hygienist.

“There’s always going to be hurdles, I’m finding, in the infant stages. It’s not always smooth, and the challenges fall on your shoulders at the end of the day as a small business owner. You’re the one turning on the lights in the morning and locking up at night. Even though I'm working harder now than I ever have, it's all worth it,” Penz summed up.

Local Entrepreneurial Experts Predict Momentous 2017

The doors have closed on another year and the blank slate of 2017 is laid out before us. As we slowly roll through January, we asked several Minnesota-based entrepreneurs or experts working closely with startups and emerging businesses what they think 2017 holds. All opinions indicate this year may be one for the books in terms of startup development and growth in Rochester.

New Entrepreneur: Fuse Digital Brings Creative Design to Rochester-Area Businesses

About the author: Patrick Webb is the founder of Preferred Altitude, LLC, a Spring Valley, MN small business that provides branded aviation apparel at

In a small office within a historic building in Rochester, the eyes of Jeff Bell, Owner and Founder of Fuse Digital Creative Services, are opening to the surprising size of the Rochester economy.  As a newer small business owner himself, he's now part of this environment. It's energizing him to put his creative design experience to work for small and large businesses alike.

“The culture of entrepreneurism and creative entrepreneurism in Rochester is just bubbling and moving!  I'm tapping into it as a newbie and [. . .] I had no idea this existed.  . . . It was like I was blind and then my eyes were opened in a wonderfully creative way.”

Fuse was launched by Jeff over one year ago and is anchored by design and branding services.  Fuse also provides a wide range of business assistance from brainstorming facilitation, to brand analysis, to visual note taking. Jeff can help, as he puts it, “interpret visually.”

Jeff says that Fuse “is really me getting back to the things that I love to do.”

“There's just so much that can be done with it and it touches everything; it touches products, it touches systems, it touches of course aesthetics and usability.” Design, Jeff believes, is applicable to everything.

“Every problem is a design problem. Every business problem is a design problem,” he said.  “What I try to bring with people that I work with is, yes they get aesthetics. They'll get that. And they will get top shelf aesthetics. But I believe that I bring [. . .] this kind of thinking about how to [. . .] look at something a little differently,” he explained.

Formerly in charge of creative services at Mayo Clinic, Jeff has years of experience that can benefit large and small clients in sometimes unexpected ways. “Sometimes people are trying to solve a problem and they don't have that problem, they have a different problem,” he said. Jeff feels that he can come into a situation and illustrate, perhaps literally and figuratively, things from his perspective.

Jeff is also an admirer of Rochester. He has coupled that admiration with his decades of design experience into a form of expression that supporters of Rochester can now take advantage of.

“I love Rochester. My wife and I have been here for fifteen years. …And in the last fifteen years all I have seen is Rochester becoming better, and better, and better,” Jeff said. “It's just like this town is on this trajectory.”

After doing some work for Destination Medical Center, Jeff got thinking about Rochester itself needing some brand work. “Mayo is branded well […] but the city is not,” he said. “I already have ideas. I might as well just put it out there.”

Jeff designed a mark, or a brand, for Rochester, and now offers different forms of “Rochester Wear” apparel via his online store, Spirit of Rochester. Numerous products including hats, shirts, phone cases, and even women's leggings are all available to those looking to show their Rochester pride.

By starting Fuse as a new business in Rochester, Jeff has first-hand experience with and understands the challenges of growing a business. This knowledge provides him with a great deal of respect for anyone starting a business.  “If someone's trying to start something, to me that is so noble and so admirable, and so brave.  . . . I admire my clients,” he said.

“I would tell anybody who has even thought about starting something on their own, and I would tell them encouragingly in a very positive way, before I even met them, ‘You have no idea of what you are capable of yet. You don't even know. You don't have a clue. In the best way!’ In other words, there is so much more in you than you have any idea.”

Fuse Digital Creative Services, Jeff believes, can help any company, large or small. “It's rewarding to do good work, but the response that I've seen from the smaller customers that I've had has been really rewarding to me personally,” he said.

Jeff also feels strongly about relationships and their importance. If he doesn't provide the exact services his client needs, he can tap into his network and get someone who does. That also extends to large projects, where he can assemble a team of the right people for the project.

“You will only be successful insomuch as you can build and maintain and encourage relationships with other people.  I don't care how talented you are.  And I believe that.”

Minimizer: One of the Most Innovative Companies You'll ever Meet

It’s difficult to survive as a company without innovation and without trying new things. And it takes a heaping of creativity to not only survive, but flourish, over a thirty-year time span. Minimizer, a Blooming Prairie-based company, was built in 1984 on a solid foundation of entrepreneurship. One of the best kept secrets of southeast Minnesota, Minimizer has revolutionized semi-truck fender manufacture, earning them a spot as a Minnesota Business Magazine Finalist for the 2016 Manufacturing Awards.

Minimizer is a second-generation, family owned business that was built on innovation. The whole story starts with one man, Dick Kruckeberg, and his truck. Specifically, his truck fenders. Dick was a truck driver, hauling machinery for Caterpillar, Inc., who had a problem. His truck fenders just kept getting dinged up and damaged. Like many of these stories begin, Dick just thought there had to be a better solution. There had to be some way to make more durable truck fenders.

One day, Dick’s wife accidentally flattened their garbage can while backing out of the garage. Dick picked up the garbage can and was able to punch out the dents, making it look as good as new. If he could do that with something as simple as a garbage can, why not with his truck fenders? Dick had a friend carve out a simple mold and started making fenders out of the same material as the garbage can. He ended up just driving around selling these fenders out of the back of his pickup truck to people with the same problem. Eventually, he landed a major deal with a garbage truck manufacturer who kept getting their fenders damaged by dumpsters. That was enough for Dick to sell his trucks and jump into manufacturing fenders full time. Minimizer was born.

Dick continued to run the company for twenty-two more years until his son, Craig, purchased Minimizer from him in 2006. As his father innovated in the 1980s with the launch of Minimizer, Craig continued to develop the company and take risks to launch the business forward. The same year he purchased Minimizer, Craig changed the business model from selling directly to consumers to selling exclusively through distribution.

“It was risky because when we sold direct, we sold at retail levels. So, the margins we made were big. And then when we started selling to dealers, we took a big cut in margin,” explained Steve Hansen, Minimizer’s Director of Marketing.

But the risk paid out big in the end. This shift allowed Minimizer to build out a network of over 3,000 distributors across Northern America. It transformed the company into a manufacturer of a single product, the poly semi-truck fender, to a post market producer of multiple semi-truck parts. Minimizer now manufactures a whole line of products with the same “tested and tortured” quality and lifetime guarantee as their fenders, including floor mats, long haul seats, mud flaps, and tool boxes.

Thirty-two years after Dick Kruckeberg started selling semi-truck fenders out of his truck, Minimizer is now a mid-sized force in Blooming Prairie, making a sizable impact on the community there.

Minimizer continues to innovate as the company expands and regularly rolls out new products.

“If you only have one product or service and never add you will be surpassed by the competition.  That is the reason that Minimizer is adding to our product line on almost a monthly basis,” explained Craig Kruckeberg.

Minimizer even has a full-time videographer creating visual demos for most of their product line, including a clip of a tank running over a Minimizer fender. The company also maintains a weekly video blog to engage their consumer base.

“I think we all probably lean towards videos now if you’re going to do […] anything from a recipe to changing the blades in a lawnmower. And so, we’re just making it easier for customers to find us and learn about us,” explained Steve.

Minimizer is not afraid to come up with creative ways to engage customers, which helps them gain the attention of 120,000 visitors per month on their webpage. They have amassed a Facebook following of over 22,000 people. This strong focus on customer engagement has been one key to their success over the past thirty years.

“It basically comes down to day to day grind and continuously believing that you need market yourself and your company. Advertising and marketing are the last budgets you cut,” explained Craig.

Minimizer is innovating well outside of their product line. Last year, the company participated in a semi-truck racing series. Next summer, they’ll send drivers to the Bandit Big Rig Series to continue the tradition.

But why stop there? In 2013, Minimizer owner Craig Kruckeberg founded Kruckeberg Industries to expand business growth in the after-market truck product industry. Kruckeberg Industries holdings include KIK Graphics, a digital printer located in Blooming Prairie, and Lee’s Liquor Lounge, a corner bar in Minneapolis. The company also owns a mobile wash unit for semi-truck trailers. This device looks like a small box truck with one gigantic brush that drives around the outside of a truck trailer and can clean a fifty-three-foot trailer in under eight minutes. The alternative involves driving the trailer through a truck wash or washing it all by hand.     

Minimizer is growing, but there have been pains along the way. Hiring remains a challenge, especially for certain positions like engineers, sales people, and web developers. But even with this issue, the company will innovate to find a solution. 

Top Podcasts of Rochester

Podcasts. Some people love them. Some people have never heard of them. Regardless of where you stand, podcast listening rates are growing in the United States. This year, 21% of Americans 12 years or older have listened to a podcast in the last month. That’s the same percentage of Americans who use Twitter, to put that into perspective. Podcast listening grew 23% between 2015 and 2016, largely due to ease of podcast consumption on smartphones and tablets. And you can find podcasts, or “audioblogs”, on just about anything from pop culture, to your favorite sports team, to business development. And the beauty is that anyone can make a podcast. All you need is a recording device.

Maybe you’re one of these 79% of Americans who don’t listen to podcasts and are looking for a place to start. Or maybe you’re a podcast fanatic but want to broaden your horizon. Here are some active podcasts that are recorded, at least in part, right here in Rochester.

  1. Sandbox Cooporative. This local podcast is a forum to talk about anything, including creating family culture, end of life, and interfaith dialog. This podcast has a theological focus and is based out of the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.
  2. Mission 250 Filmcast. This one isn’t entirely recorded in Rochester, but a co-host on the podcast lives here now. The whole idea is to bring together a group of movie enthusiast friends to discuss and count down the top 250 movies as rated by IMDb. They’re counting in reverse order and recently released a podcast discussing movie #238, The Help.
  3. Mayo Clinic Radio.  This is a one hour weekly radio show straight out of the Mayo Clinic.
  4. Rochester Rising. And, of course, you should tune in to our podcast as well. A new show comes out every Wednesday where we talk to a different entrepreneur or innovator in Rochester.

Bonus Minnesota podcasts:

  1. The Minnesota BeerCast.  This podcast is all about the craft beer scene in Minnesota. There will be a live episode recorded this week right at Grand Rounds Brew Pub!
  2. Minnov8. This podcast is co-hosted by our friend Graeme Thickins, who guest posts on Rochester Rising. Minnov8 focuses on innovation in tech and web-based technologies in Minnesota.

DocuMNtary Helps to Spread the Story of Innovation in Minnesota

Today is the last day of the Global Entrepreneurship Week events in Rochester. These past few days were a time to celebrate and encourage entrepreneurship. At times, I feel that people are scared off by the term entrepreneur and think that you need to have a billion-dollar idea or a get-rich-quick plan to be an entrepreneur. But really, an entrepreneur is someone who is just trying to do something new and is creating a solution to a real problem.

The events this week brought together diverse people with one thing in common: we all are trying to find a better way to do something. Some people at these events have always been entrepreneurs. But most have not. Most were nurses or scientists, government workers or former Fortune 500 executives before stepping away to just try doing something different. To me, the most important outcome of Global Entrepreneurship Week is to show that there are people right here in our community who are following their passions to help make at least one piece of our lives a little bit better.

As the week draws to a close, it’s the perfect time to think about where we are as a community and how we can become better. It’s also a time to reflect on the story of entrepreneurship as a whole in Minnesota.

Minnesotans are hardworking. And we’re also very humble. This trait can be our best quality at times, but it can also be our biggest downfall. We have an amazingly rich history of innovation in Minnesota, but we hesitate to tell our story to the rest of the world.

During Global Entrepreneurship Week here in Rochester, we had the opportunity to screen the film DocuMNtary with the producer Nick Roseth and videographer Eric Jenson. DocuMNtary, as the name suggests, is a documentary that tells the story of tech in Minnesota. The entire film was bootstrapped and shot over a one-and-a-half-year period to help to spread a different story of Minnesota.

What usually comes to mind when people think about our state? If they don’t live here, they usually just think that Minnesota’s cold. Frigid. Even unbearable. That’s the story of Minnesota that typically gets told. That it’s cold here. That the people here have funny accents. That the businesses here are too cautious. That no one ever moves to Minnesota.

This isn’t our story.

Yes, it’s cold here. I can’t deny that. But it’s all in the perspective. The temperature for a portion of the year cannot define our state. It might take a little more convincing to get people to re-locate to Minnesota, but once they do they’re probably going to stay here for a long time.

DocuMNtary helps to piece together a better story of Minnesota that we can tell. The real story. The story of Minnesota’s deep tech roots that go back to the 1960s when Minnesota was a world leader in computer manufacturing. But even then our tech expertise was hushed, largely because it grew out of classified government contracts and code breaking.

We still have deep tech expertise across the state. Many entrepreneurs and community leaders speaking on the film felt that we are right on the cusp of something big in Minnesota, a real transformation. It’s an important time for us to take note of what is happening around us, the history that we are creating right now, and embrace the experience. Innovation is moving quickly in Minnesota. Last year alone $380M was invested into our tech companies. We arguably are developing some of the best B2B software in the world here.

Not just the tech sector, but Minnesota’s entrepreneurial community as a whole is growing exponentially. But our story is flying under the radar. As was pointedly stated in DocuMNtary, Minnesota is a great place to start up or settle down. Want to work at an established business? We have a high density of Fortune 500 companies in the state. But if you want to start something new, you’ve landed in the right place.

DocuMNtary is a must see not only for people working in tech, but for anyone living in Minnesota. For anyone who thinks that Minnesotans are cautious, that nothing ever happens here, or that it’s fly over country, I challenge you to watch the film, and then of course visit us.

Yes, we have our own unique struggles in the entrepreneurial community here that we have to address and overcome. But I challenge each of us living here, myself included, to really open up our eyes, take in what’s happening around us, and then help to share a new story of Minnesota.

DocuMNtary can be viewed for free by clicking here. The film is arranged in modular units, so you can pick what is most interesting to you or watch it all. The film was narrated by Minneapolis rapper Dessa and all the instrumental was performed by the Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree, who agreed to participate after a cold email. That in itself helps to tell a different story about Minnesota.

Rochester Rising Launches Crowdfunding Campaign to make News Site a Sustainable Part of the Community

Rochester Rising is launching a crowdfunding campaign, starting today, to make this news site a sustainable part of the community. You can become a supporter by clicking here to be re-directed to the Rochester Rising Patreon site. It’s crowdfunding, so of course there are prizes for contributing to the campaign! There are seven different incentive levels, including advertisement for businesses and startups.

  • At a $25/month, a startup or emerging small business gets one week of advertisement per month on the Rochester Rising homepage.
  • At $100/month a, more established, local business or nonprofit gets one week of advertisement per month on the Rochester Rising homepage.


What is Rochester Rising?

Hopefully this is not your first visit here, but if it is I hope it’s not your last. Rochester Rising is an online-only news site that delivers in-depth, insightful, original articles and podcasts about the entrepreneurial and emerging small business sectors in Rochester, Minnesota.

I told my story as a new entrepreneur here just a few weeks ago. But Rochester Rising was really started to fill a gap in news coverage in our community. We have a very young, but emerging entrepreneurial community here in Rochester. We have a great bioscience and medical community here, and some of these entrepreneurs are operating in that industry. But we also have so much more. We have tech entrepreneurs, food and beverage entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, student entrepreneurs, and innovative non-profits. We have a growing small business community. People here are really starting to take risks and put themselves out there, but no one is talking about it.

Rochester Rising gives our innovators and entrepreneurs a voice. It’s a place to tell the stories of our risk-takers, both the good parts and the bad. And hopefully it’s a place that will inspire change through words and motive others to start something, no matter how small.


Why Should you Care?

Rochester Rising is not out to craft click bait headlines. Not every story will be of interest to everyone. But there’s something here for anyone interested in community development, entrepreneurship, innovation, and business development in Rochester and even beyond this city. There’s something here for everyone who wants to be inspired. These are the stories that we feel need to be told.

There’s no large production team behind Rochester Rising. It’s just me. One person. I do all the writing, editing, podcasting, web development, sales, marketing, business development, etc. I am currently not financed by any promotional or business development entities in town. It’s just me trying to make this work long enough to make a difference.


What’s Crowdfunding and What’s in it For Me?

Crowdfunding is a way to raise small amounts of money from a large number of people. People who financially back a product or business through crowdfunding typically get some type of reward. Most people are probably more familiar with crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, where supporters make a one-time financial contribution and the fundraising campaign ends in 30-60 days.

I’m using a different crowdfunding platform called Patreon. These campaigns last until the creator (me in this case) ends them. And instead of the one-time financial support, supporting patrons give a monthly financial contribution. So it’s more similar to an MPR-like model where supporters, or patrons in this case, give however much they want each month to the business.

Besides just knowing that you’re helping to make Rochester Rising a sustainable part of the community here, there are seven other incentive levels for patrons contributing monthly to the campaign. Here’s what Rochester Rising patrons will receive:

  • For $1/month: A special “I support Rochester Rising” sticker + access to patron-only teasers about upcoming interviews. These teasers can be accessed on the Patreon website or mobile app.
  • For $5/month: All of the above incentives + access to patron-only weekly, exclusive Rochester Rising content. This content is will be available through the Patreon website or app.
  • For $10/month: All of the above incentives + one Rochester Rising coffee mug.
  • For $15/month: All of the above incentives + one Rochester Rising T-shirt + the ability to submit questions for upcoming interviews (through the Patreon website or app).
  • For $25/month: All of the above incentives + tickets to an exclusive live taping of a Rochester Rising roundtable podcast + 1 week/month of free advertising for a startup or emerging small business on the Rochester Rising homepage.
  • $50/month: All of the above incentives + one surprise sent to you in the mail each month from me! + 1 free month of Collider Community membership ($20 value).
  • $100/month: All of the above incentives + listing as a Founding Patron on Rochester Rising (if you want) + 1 free week/month of free advertising for a local business or non-profit on the Rochester Rising homepage.


Check out the Patreon page for more information on how the money will be spent and to become a patron.

Any amount really helps Rochester Rising continue to exist. If you have read some of the articles or listen to the podcasts and have learned even one thing, please consider become a patron. If you really see the value of having something like this in the community, or if you even know me personally and believe in me, consider helping to make this a voice for entrepreneurship.


Grow your Business this Month with Four Free Google Tools

Nate Nordstrom is Founder at BrandHoot, a company that creates innovative apps and websites for brands with big ideas, from prototype to production.

The internet is a big place and your time is valuable. Here’s a short list of free Google tools you should be using ASAP if you aren’t already.

1) Google My Business: Stop losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in missed opportunities. Ensure your map location, phone number, website, etc. are accurate, complete, and attractive. One of our recent clients has more than doubled their online bookings simply by adding fresh pictures of their products and services along with our PixelPress website services. Find your business on Google Maps and click on “Claim this business” or go to

2) Google Alerts: Automatically get updates on any articles, press coverage, or other online content about your company, your name, or any other keywords you choose. If you aren’t already using this great free service, start here:

3) Google Analytics: You probably already know about Google Analytics, but we recommend confirming that your analytics are indeed tracking properly and that you have full access to the data. Next, look for insights, such as your most popular pages. You might be surprised at what you find and be able to make better data-driven decisions right away. Start here:

4) Google Search Console, also known as Webmaster Tools: Ensure your website is showing up as high as possible in Google searches by confirming that your site is being found correctly and that there are no errors. A simple but helpful SEO tool. Start here:

So there you have it. Four free Google tools that you can (and should) start using to grow your business. Which tool will you commit to trying this week?

Stay tuned for more business and digital marketing advice, or check out some of our services:

  1. Websites for small businesses and non-profits:
  2. Custom mobile apps and websites:
  3. Facebook marketing for restaurants:


Let's Open the Conversation about Mental Illness and Entrepreneurs (Part 2/2)

Originally published on Life Science Nexus.

In our last article, we talked about how mental illness rates, particularly those of depression and anxiety, are higher in business founders than in the general US population.  Entrepreneurs may also possess innate character traits that can exacerbate or predispose them to develop mental illness.  But no one is talking about these alarmingly high rates or speaking openly about mental illness in our startup communities.

We’re here to break the stigma associated with mental illness and open up this conversation with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)’s Southeast Minnesota affiliate (NAMI SE MN).

NAMI is the nation’s largest grass roots mental health organization, based on peer-to-peer support.  There are state NAMIs and local affiliates, such as NAMI SE MN, all across the country.  Many NAMIs were founded by parents with affected children coming together in an organic manner, because they couldn’t talk about their child’s mental illness in any other setting.  Nobody else quite understood like a parent in the same position.

“[NAMI’s] mission is to improve the lives of individuals affected by mental illness through education, support, research, and advocacy,” explained Courtney Lawson, Executive Director at NAMI SE MN based in Rochester.

NAMI focuses not only on those with a diagnosed mental illness, but also people who have mental illness but don’t seek treatment, which is a fairly high number.  About 56% of adults and 80% of children and adolescents with mental illness remain undiagnosed and untreated.  NAMI also supports friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors of those with mental illness. 

Every one in five US adults experienced a mental illness in the past year.  So when you think about it, pretty much everyone is touched by mental illness in one way or another.

“Ultimately, our overarching goal is to dispel the stigma and the myths that surround mental illness so people feel comfortable talking about it and get the help that they need, when they need it,” said Courtney.

Often we think that someone with a mental illness can’t function as a member of society or hold down a job.  We think the mental illness will be blatantly obvious to everybody this person comes into contact with.

“There’s a myth that [mental illness] comes from a personal weakness or is characteristic of bad parenting or some character flaw, when really it’s a biological brain disorder.  It’s a medical condition like any other medical condition.  Yet we look at it completely differently,” said Courtney.

Sharing stories of personal experience with mental illness forms a major part of NAMI’s mission.  Courtney herself is very open about her diagnosis with bipolar disorder.  She finally received the correct diagnosis at 32 years of age, after being symptomatic for close to a decade. 

Growing up, she had a strong support base and parents in a long term marriage who encouraged effective communication skills.  There’s this assumption that if you have good family support and people to talk with, you shouldn’t need therapy.  You should just be able to deal with it, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Courtney said, “I learned skills in therapy that I apply every single day, because it teaches you to use these tools in interpersonal communication and in our relationships, and how to communicate our needs and resolve conflict.”

How do we dissipate this stigma associated with mental illness?  The most important way might be to just open our eyes.

“It’s really hard to be stigmatizing of someone when you think you have never met anyone with mental illness.  It is easy to build up this image in your head of what they look like.  But when you meet someone who is functioning well and is happy and productive and is a valuable member of the community and says, ‘I’m a person that lives with mental illness,’ that is really what breaks down the stigma,” Courtney emphasized.

43.8 million, or 18.5%, of US adults experience a mental illness in any given year.  It’s safe to say that we all know someone who is or has been affected by mental illness.  And that person may very well be ourselves.   

Successful founders and entrepreneurs coming forward and saying, ‘Yes I have been affected by mental illness’ continues to chip away at this stigma.  Cheezburger founder Ben Huh penned an emotional article expressing his suicidal thoughts after a startup failure.  Foundry Group investor and Techstars co-founder Brad Feld has been extremely open about his struggles with depression.  These leaders exposing their battles with mental illness and saying they are not invincible, and you can be both successful and have a diagnosed mental illness is just a start to break down these barriers and allow more founders to step forward for help.

NAMI runs many educational events to help break down this stigma and to dispel the misinformation associated with a mental illness diagnosis. 

All NAMI programming is led by a peer.  “If somebody goes to a support group for family members, or to a class for family members, they know that person facilitating or leading will also be a family member and share that experience,” explained Courtney.

The root of mental illness is complex and still not well understood.  There is a genetic predisposition for these diseases.  In addition, some studies uncovered a relationship between exposure to certain toxins in utero and mental illness.  Certain personality traits may also be associated with or exacerbate symptoms.  Defective neurotransmitter communication has also been observed in people with mental illness.

“[…] when we can show things like that, it lets people know that it’s not your fault.  It’s literally how you were wired,” said Courtney. 

When should you seek help for a potential mental illness? 

“The biggest thing I like to emphasize with warning signs is a change occurs.  A change from baseline,” said Courtney.  This can include a noticeable loss of interest in normal activities, changes in sleep schedules and eating patterns, or a pervasive change in mood. 

“I think we have a responsibility to each other, too, when we see those changes to ask what is going on and to listen in a way that’s supportive,” said Courtney.

The first step in seeking help for a potential mental illness might be right through your primary care doctor, who are increasingly performing depression and anxiety assessments during regular office visits.  Crafting a plan that involves some sort of therapy and medication through a professional care team is key toward managing a diagnosis. 

Managing a mental illness is not an easy road, but it can be done with patience and persistence.

“There’s kind of this misperception that you go out and you get a prescription and then you take the pill and you’re good.  Psychiatric drugs can be tricky to find the right one that works for the person.  Unfortunately, it can take a few weeks to know if it’s helping or not helping,” explained Courtney.

Therapy is also key in the management process and helps to develop skills to better understand emotions and how to manage them.  Any stress outlet or method to maintain a healthy lifestyle also goes a long way to mitigate and relieve symptoms of mental illness.  For Courtney, maintaining a regular sleep/wake cycle and exercise helped with her diagnosis.

Beyond a professional team, there are other resources that can help. 

One startup support listening service, called 7 Cups of Tea holds live chat sessions administered by thousands of trained listeners.  These service providers can’t give medical or psychological advice.  They’re just present to listen.  But sometimes that’s all it takes.

Tech entrepreneur Cindy Gallop developed the hashtag #startupstress to talk openly about the stressful lifestyle involved in building a startup, which is used to relieve frustration via social media about the often chaotic entrepreneurial lifestyle.

The NAMI website is also an excellent resource.  This page lists all local NAMI affiliates, like NAMI SE MN, and contact information. 

NAMI recently developed the NAMI Air app, which can be used to directly connect to the organization.  More importantly, the app serves as a safe place to share feelings and thoughts about mental illness in an anonymous manner and get feedback and responses from others.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is another a vital resource: 1-800-273-8255.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from mental illness, please reach out for help.  We need to keep our founders, and all our loved ones, healthy to continue to drive innovation in Rochester and beyond.