Red Wing Ignite

Busy Baby LLC Wins Fourth Annual Ignite Cup

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Tuesday night entrepreneurship took center stage at the Ignite Cup in Red Wing. Five startups, including four with Rochester ties, pitched their innovations for a guaranteed spot in the semifinal round of the Minnesota Cup, the largest statewide business pitch competition. Oronoco-based business Busy Baby LLC walked away as the winner of the 2019 Ignite Cup and will compete in the Minnesota Cup for the second consecutive year. 

Busy Baby LLC was launched by entrepreneur, US veteran, and mom Beth Fynbo. This innovator has created and manufactured a 100% FDA-approved silicone mat with a proprietary tether system to keep babies from tossing toys and other items onto the floor, keeping these objects germ-free. Since Fynbo’s run at the Minnesota Cup last year, where she made it to the semifinal round, she developed a prototype of the Busy Baby mat and has earned $12,000 in sales this year. Fynbo currently manufactures the mats in China but hopes to move production to the US at some point. She currently sells the product from her website and is beginning to formulate retail packaging. 

Additional startups pitching at Ignite Cup included GoAdvntr, Phraze, Shrpa, and SkyWorks.

GoAdvntr is a Winona-based business to help people seek adventure and “experience something new.” This business, pitched by CEO and Founder Brian Kugel, is an online marketplace where local businesses can list their experiential adventures and connect with consumers. GoAdvntr aims to use a “community first approach” and is focused on launching their product in southern Minnesota. GoAdvntr currently has sixteen host businesses offering twenty-eight different adventures in line for when the product launches. They aim to scale to 125 hosts by the end of 2019.

AI medical scribe Phraze was pitched by current Rochester resident and co-founder Brandon McCutcheon. Phraze automates documentation for physicians, reducing physician burnout and beginning the documentation process before the physician even enters the exam room. The startup’s four co-founders estimate that Phraze will save ~1.5 hours of physician time per day based on early testing, leading to over $9M per month in cost savings. Phraze filed a provisional patent on their technology in March and aims to obtain one hundred users by the end of 2019. The startup has raised $135,000 of seed funding to date.

Shrpa, a Rochester-based app to connect people to their communities, was pitched by co-founders Chris Lukenbill and Andy Vig. Shrpa provides users with handcrafted itineraries created by local guides, allowing users to experience a community and navigate the logistics of that experience like a local. The idea for Shrpa was created this January and the MVP will launch this month. By the end of the summer Lukenbill and Vig aim for 20K trips to be taken via Shrpa. The original focus for the product is on Rochester and the immediately surrounding area. 

SkyWorks, also based in Rochester, was the final pitch of the night. This startup was founded by Sam Barsness, AJ Hawkins, and Ahmed Makkawy. SkyWorks aims to provide a new standard in commercial real estate transaction processing to create less work for agents, reduced risk for brokers, and more loyal clients. The startup is tackling a $65.1B target market.

Congratulations to all the teams that pitched at the fourth annual Ignite Cup. Best of luck to Beth Fynbo as she represents the region at Minnesota Cup. And a big ‘thank you’ to Red Wing Ignite Executive Director Neela Mollgaard and her team for creating another engaging platform for entrepreneurship.  

"Poultry Patrol" Robot Wins Inaugural Ag Tech Challenge

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After three months of competition, the winner of Ignite Minnesota’s Ag Tech Challenge was announced last week in Red Wing. Rising above over fifty other innovators throughout the contest, engineer Jack Kilian walked away with the grand prize with his concept Poultry Patrol. 

The Ag Tech Challenge was officially launched in October during the Twin Cities’ inaugural Food Ag Ideas Week by Ignite Minnesota, a national network to accelerate next generation technologies. The contest aimed to uncover new hardware, software, or data solutions for agriculture.

During the first phase of the competition at the end of 2018, semi-finalists Poultry Patrol, Tile Drainage Monitoring and Control, and Robotic Sod Weed Farmer concepts were selected from the pool of applicants. Two of these ideas won $2,500 at this stage of the challenge. All three semi-finalists pitched last week in Red Wing during the final phase of the competition for the chance to win up to $10,000 for their projects.

Mark Swanson, a Minnesota State College Southeast computer programming instructor, pitched the concept Tile Drainage and Monitoring System. This idea targets farm sediment and nutrient runoff, a significant problem in the Minnesota River Valley. Currently, farmers may mitigate this issue through methods like protecting exposed soil, slowing down and storing water, or by implementing catchment systems. However, these techniques only serve as partial solutions. Swanson proposed the development of a low-cost monitoring device to help farmers measure runoff and the effects of runoff mitigation on their farms for targeted elimination efforts.

Robotic Sod Farm Weeder, pitched by Nick Fragale, enables non-chemical-based weed removal on an industrial scale with robotics. Fragale is also the co-founder of Rover Robotics, a Wayzata-based tech company that creates cost-effective, rugged robots for startups. Robots, Fragale explained, perform repetitive tasks like weeding very well. Other weed removing robots do exist on the market, such as a solar powered robot that Fragale estimated to cost between $50,000 to $100,000. Instead, he proposed to construct a robotic weeder on a much cheaper scale, primarily by eliminating the use of a robotic arm on the machine, a part that can dramatically drive up costs. Without an arm, Fragale must test the efficacy of other methods, such as drilling and zapping, to kill weeds with his more economical robotic prototype. 

Jack Kilian, University of Minnesota Twin Cities electrical engineering master’s student, pitched the winning concept Poultry Patrol. This idea addresses problems in industrial poultry housing. Poultry growers, Kilian explained, need to walk through these large housing units several times a day to check for and remove dead and diseased birds and to assess the overall functionality of equipment in the houses. These areas are also bio secure, requiring growers to change their clothes and shoes each time they enter or exit the facility. To make this process more efficient, Kilian aims to develop a robot that would identify sick birds and alert the growers of the exact location of the animal using digital mapping. The robot could also check the status of vital equipment in the facility as well, eliminating the need for growers to perform multiple daily surveillance walks through the poultry houses. Much of the hardware for this concept is already created, Kilian explained. He proposed targeting turkey growers for initial use of his robot to stick to the Minnesota ties of the concept. Minnesota remains the largest turkey producing state in the US.

Congrats to all of the contestants in Ignite Minnesota’s Ag Tech Challenge. Head to the Red Wing Ignite Facebook page to view all of the final pitches.

Strong Women Creating Value, Part Three: Neela Mollgaard

As part of Women's History Month, we are highlighting four women in the community who are making waves and creating things of real value. Check back in next week as we share the final part of this series and amplify the stories of some real female innovators who are making significant impact in Rochester and southeastern Minnesota. 

This week, we're focused on local entrepreneur Neela Mollgaard.

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Who are you? 

I’m the Executive Director of Red Wing Ignite.  After Red Wing was named a partner with US Ignite in 2012, I was part of a dedicated group that created the nonprofit, which fosters innovation with students, entrepreneurs, and businesses.

Though, my most valued roles are being a mother, wife, and friend.

What value are you creating in the community? 

I am helping to create a foundation for success for students, entrepreneurs, and businesses as we build a culture of innovation and strive to stay competitive in this global economy.

This is done in three ways: 

-       Providing learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom to prepare students for the workforce of tomorrow. 

-       By connecting entrepreneurs with mentors, investors, customers, and technical advisors to help bring ideas to reality.

-       Supporting businesses by convening talent, technology, and resources such as a maker space and co-working space. 

 

What are your responsibilities in your day to day job?

I guess you can say I am a matchmaker of sorts;  I bring together entrepreneurs, business, and schools with needed resources, expertise, and talent in an effort to advance their goals.    

 

What does it mean to you to be a woman in business? 

To be honest, I don’t think about it.  I just see the work that needs to be done and do it.

 

What ask do you have for women in the SE Minnesota business and entrepreneurial community?

My ask would be that we all work collaboratively across city limits and organizational boundaries to place businesses' and entrepreneurs' needs first.

The African Proverb, says it best: “ If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together.”

 

What challenges do you think that women face in today’s society?

The entrepreneurial ecosystem is predominately male-driven but, I am encouraged to see more women entrepreneurs, investors, and female students involved in STEM career paths. 

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.