Shrpa

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.  

Meet Rochester's Newest Startup: Shrpa

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Entrepreneurs Chris Lukenbill and Andy Vig are modernizing tourism with Rochester’s newest tech startup, Shrpa. This soon to launch service connects people to communities to experience the community like a local with highly customized itineraries to help people “get out and discover.”

The original concept for Shrpa stemmed from an experience Lukenbill had with his own family. He had visited LARK toys in Kellogg, Minn. several times with his wife and children. But instead of their normal one-stop trip to the store, Lukenbill received a handcrafted itinerary from a colleague, which led to a multi-phase adventure at several businesses and tourist spots in that region.  

“All these other things were there, but we had never been to them. And the fact that we did that in a whole event was a memory,” he explained. “That was an experience that was a full memory that wasn’t something that we would know how to put together on our own.”

Prior to that experience, this entrepreneur was working on a different startup concept, which he quickly reduced to its most basic elements into what he calls Shrpa: a service that “connects people to their communities by providing guided itineraries that match a user’s interest and available time.” 

Lukenbill paired up with Vig to bring this vision to life. Vig, a software engineer, brings extensive knowledge in building architecture software systems that scale for large companies to the Shrpa team. Vig spent over eleven years at Microsoft and most recently worked at the computer gaming company NCSOFT.

Shrpa, Lukenbill explained, is like micro-travel agency that puts together a set of experiences in a way that make sense for each set of users. The service helps to reduce the friction associated with visiting a location for the first time by providing users with “tips and tricks” to reduce uncertainty, to achieve a memorable reduced-stress experience, to allow users to experience a community like a local. 

Shrpa is not a service users would seek out every time they left home.

“This is going to be the thing you use to go to have a new experience and along that experience you’re going to find cool stuff that you are going to want to go back and do again,” Lukenbill explained.

 Shrpa will be a highly customized service driven by locality. To get that authentic experience, itineraries in each community will be built by local people, which Lukenbill and Vig call Sherpas, with a high level of passion and knowledge about that particular location.

“We want to make sure there is a feel of this high touch type of connection because there is the experience of it, this human side of it, to be able to put all these things together. That’s again where all the value is,” Lukenbill explained. “It’s not just like here are five cool things that we created, some randomly created itinerary to go and see those things. Here is what actually makes sense to put together to experience because this is somebody who knows what these places are and knows how to experience it because they’ve been there before.”

Lukenbill and Vig have identified some of their first Sherpas, people already providing this type of work or creating similar content. They plan to plug into additional experience and adventure resources as the scope of Shrpa grows. 

As a serial entrepreneur, Lukenbill knows how to grow a startup. He previously founded a greenhouse business called Fresh with Edge and an agtech startup called Able.ag. His plan with Shrpa is to start small, get a minimal viable product onto the market, and really understand how people use and derive value from the service. Right now, he sees information obtained from Shrpa’s early adopters as useful as the itineraries these users will gain from the service. Once Lukenbill and Vig better understand the direction of Shrpa, they’ll pursue monetization strategies. 

Now, the pair is excited to provide a highly customized, modern way for people to explore their community and experience brand new adventures. Look for the first version of Shrpa to launch this month. 

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