Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week

R.A.V.E. Honors Local Entrepreneurs at Fifth Annual Celebration

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Last week the fifth annual Recognizing Awarding Valuing Entrepreneurs (R.A.V.E.) event took place in the Rochester community to celebrate and share stories of regional innovation. R.A.V.E. is hosted by Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. (RAEDI), Journey to Growth, and 504 Corporation as part of Rochester’s Global Entrepreneurship Week.

The 2018 R.A.V.E. event drew in over two-hundred attendees including entrepreneurs, supportive services, established businesses, and community leadership.

“Look around the room. Look at the crowd we have,” explained Ryan Nolander, President of RAEDI. “It’s a wonderful evening, a wonderful event where we get to showcase our entrepreneurs and the future they have in front of them and the great things they provide for the community.” 

This year, R.A.V.E. honored local companies: Sprouts Childcare and Early Education Center, Trailtopia Adventure Food, and Vyriad.

Sprouts Childcare and Early Education Center was founded by husband and wife team Krystal and Patrick Campbell in 2018 to fill a growing childcare need in Stewartville, Minnesota and the surrounding communities. The facility is licensed for up to ninety-nine children from six weeks to twelve-years-old. Trailtopia was founded in 2013 by local entrepreneur Vince Robichaud. This Byron-based, family-run company creates and sells freeze-dried and dehydrated foods in specially engineered bags, in which the food can both be cooked and eaten. Vyriad is a Rochester clinical stage biopharmaceutical company founded in 2015 by Mayo Clinic investigators Dr. Stephen Russell and Dr. Kah-Whye Peng. Vyriad is developing multiple oncolytic viral platforms to deliver cancer therapeutics with proprietary reporter gene technology.  

From 2014 to 2017, R.A.V.E. has honored sixteen regional businesses, ranging from biotech to pet product companies, including: Mill Creek Life Sciences, BrandHoot, Imanis Life Sciences, DoApp Inc., Transfuse Solutions, LiquidCool Solutions, Ambient Clinical Analytics, GoRout, Rochester Home Infusion, Area 10 Labs, Resoundant, Enlightened Equipment, Licks, Sonex Health, Envirolastech, and River Bluff Technologies.

A 2014 R.A.V.E. honoree, Mill Creek Life Sciences, a Rochester company producing clinical grade cell culture media, has grown sales by twenty-five percent annually over the last three years. The company also placed second this year in the Minnesota Cup Life Sciences/Health IT Division. Mill Creek is additionally expanding from a research reagent into a cancer therapy company.  

Since being honored in 2014, Rochester website and mobile app development company BrandHoot moved into a new, larger office space. This business has also more than quadrupled their revenue since 2014 to add on additional team members.

 A 2015 R.A.V.E. honoree, hardware and software football technology company GoRout has more than doubled their sales over the past three years. The company has customers in every major college football conference and recently made their first international sale. In 2017, GoRout deployed their own private national network exclusive to their technology. Since this time, over 300,000 plays have been sent over this network. The company has recently moved to a larger location in Rochester to accommodate their growth.

Sonex Health, a 2017 R.A.V.E. honoree and creator of the SX-One MicroKnife to enable minimally invasive carpal tunnel release surgery, has more than doubled in growth and revenue from 2017-2018. The company recently graduated from the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator and has moved into a larger space in Rochester to assist their 100% increase in staff over the last year. Sonex additionally built a specialized training facility in their new location for physicians to learn how to use their technology.

Steve and Umbelina Cremer, CEO of Harmony Enterprises and Executive Director of Harmony Kids Learning Center respectively, were also honored as R.A.V.E. Lifetime Achievement Honorees. And finally, the Southeast Minnesota Capital Fund was granted the R.A.V.E. Warrior Award for their advocacy work for Rochester entrepreneurs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Entrepreneurial Showcase Shines Light on Local Student Innovators

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

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

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

Five student teams participated from around the region.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Kallmes of Superior Medical Editing.

Keith Kallmes of Superior Medical Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join in and be Inspired at Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017

This story is brought to you by Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017:

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Plug in and be inspired to innovate during Rochester’s Global Entrepreneurship Week. Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is the largest celebration of innovation and community in the world, which occurs in 170 countries and touches 10M people. GEW 2017 will take place November 13th through November 17th.

Rochester GEW will involve a full of week of events and programming, allowing community members to come together to celebrate the entrepreneurship and innovation that this city has to offer. Rochester GEW is an opportunity to leverage connections and engage all levels of the startup, entrepreneurial, and innovation ecosystem, from the solopreneur to the seasoned business leader.

“This is our fifth GEW celebration in Rochester.  As our entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to prosper, we need to celebrate our risk takers and inspire the next generation of local entrepreneurs,” said Jamie Sundsbak, Rochester GEW organizer.

Most importantly, GEW is a time to be inspired. It’s a platform not only for entrepreneurs to connect with each other, it’s an opportunity for all community members to explore their potential as innovators and to connect with like-minded individuals who are just looking to start something in this city.

The theme of this year’s Rochester GEW is honoring the past and embracing the future. It’s a time to explore and celebrate our entrepreneurial roots and engage in what the future of innovation could look like in our community.

GEW Rochester will include a wide range of events to engage and connect the innovation ecosystem of Rochester and the surrounding communities. Programming will include a student showcase, displaying innovations and prototypes developed by students in southeast Minnesota. The team from DoApp, a Rochester mobile application business, will also tell their story and walk through their successful acquisition last year. Events will also include a Women’s Entrepreneurial Happy Hour and a panel discussing business from the media perspective. The week will wrap up with the RAVE (Rochester Area Values Entrepreneurship) capstone event- hosted by Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. and Journey to Growth- to celebrate and honor local entrepreneurs.

The Rochester GEW organizing team is still seeking potential sponsors for the week. If your organization is interested in sponsorship opportunities or could donate space for programming, please contact Jamie Sundsbak at

The organizing team encourages members of the community to spread the word about this week, to invite their friends, and to attend as many events as possible to celebrate, engage with, and learn about Rochester’s startup culture.

Keep up with the latest news about GEW Rochester by subscribing to their newsletter. You can also link up by liking the GEW Rochester Facebook page and by following the Twitter hashtags #gewroch and #gew2017.