entrepreneur

#Emerge Episode 27 with Crystal and Jim Whitmarsh

Today on #Emerge we sit down with local entrepreneurs Crystal and Jim Whitmarsh. This husband and wife team own Trail Creek Coffee Roasters, a business that was built by a garage, a vintage popcorn machine, and “how to” video tutorials. Crystal and Jim were set up on a blind date fifteen years ago, where they went to the ever-romantic Pizza Hut and a coffee shop. That same coffee shop became a staple in their early dating relationship, and they dreamed of one day owning their own such business. Now that dream is getting closer to reality as Trail Creek Coffee Roasters has recently moved to a shared commercial space in downtown Kasson.

“We were hustling really hard. It almost came to a point where it was like, we either do this and jump all in or we hire somebody to help.” -Crystal Whitmarsh

Yoga Tribe Finds New Home at Castle Community

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Three years after launching her entrepreneurial vision, innovator Heather Ritenour-Sampson has found a new home for her business, Yoga Tribe. After growing her community for wellness in the former location of Cube Coworking on South Broadway, Ritenour-Sampson continues to expand her tribe alongside other like-minded creatives at the Castle Community.

Yoga Tribe, Ritenour-Sampson explained, is a yoga studio that provides a community for adults centered around health and wellness. The studio offers a variety of classes including restorative, yin, and vinyasa yoga and is open to people at all levels of yoga experience. 

“Fundamentally I want people to know that you are welcome here,” she said. “You are going to find all kinds of people [at] all ages and different physical ability levels.”

The first time Ritenour-Sampson tried yoga herself, which was incidentally from a rented VHS tape from her student union, she hated it. It wasn’t until after the birth of her first son that she got back into yoga again, this time having a much more positive experience through classes at the local YMCA. 

“It was hard. It was challenging. It confused me and frustrated me in a really good way because I needed that in my life at that time. And every single time I got done, I felt so much better,” she explained. “I feel that it started to get me more in touch with myself in ways that I hadn’t really considered before.” 

Propelled by a canceled yoga session at the YMCA, Ritenour-Sampson decided to get trained so she could teach classes herself. She enrolled in a weekend long training program to become a certified yoga instructor, eventually moving on from the “Y” to teach yoga classes with the Rochester Athletic Club (RAC).

Ritenour-Sampson said her time at RAC was incredible for mentorship and her own personal growth as a teacher. During this period, she also enrolled in an online coaching program to think about her career path. 

“What I realized from doing that process and kind of giving myself permission to dream bigger is that I was really treating my work like a hobby,” she explained. “I just had this feeling of really wanting to see what it felt like to do it on my own.” 

Ritenour-Sampson came from a very entrepreneurial family. She herself is artistic and innovative. Prior to opening Yoga Tribe, she was teaching yoga as a freelance instructor. She also does floral design and contract writing. In the end, opening up her own yoga studio, where she didn’t need to ask permission to do anything, didn’t seem like such a big leap. She felt the need to create something in the Rochester community focused on yoga that could bring people together to “laugh and cry and sweat and flow together.” Now, she has over five hundred hours of yoga teaching certification and is approved to teach others to become yoga instructors.

Three years after opening the business, Ritenour Sampson has learned multiple lessons.

“I feel like is has been baptism by fire for sure,” she laughed. “When I went into [Yoga Tribe] then and what it is now, the mission and values are similar, but the execution is different. I feel really grounded and I feel confident with what I am doing now compared to not really knowing and shooting arrows into the dark.”

A coach at her fundamental core, Ritenour-Sampson joked that “transformation is really my jam.” Connecting with people over a long period of time and witnessing their breakthrough moment remains her favorite part of yoga instructor life.

After growing Yoga Tribe for a few years on South Broadway, on April 1st Ritenour-Sampson moved her business just a few blocks north into the second floor of the Castle Community. She said the space and collective artistic community just feels right to her from a scaling standpoint. 

“For me being in a space with artists here, I feel like it’s going to help integrate who I am as a person because I am a writer, I play music and sing. I like to draw and paint and sometimes make things,” she said. “So I just feel this is more authentic to who I am. I really see yoga as a movement art and I see art as healing. So I just feel this is the right place to be.”

Six Local Startups Steamroll into Semifinal Round of Minnesota Cup Business Pitch Competition

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Six Olmsted County teams will advance this year into the semifinal round of the Minnesota Cup. Minnesota Cup, now in its fifteenth season, is the largest state-wide business plan competition in the United States. This five-month long competition, run through the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, provides teams with mentorship, connections, and more. Teams also compete for a slice of seed prize money, totaling $500,000 this year. 

Ninety Minnesota-based teams remain in the competition, spread across nine different divisions. Semifinalists from Olmsted County include: Busy Baby LLC, HipStar LLC, Phenomix Sciences, Phraze, Amicii, and DiscoverMe.

 

Busy Baby LLC (General Division, Women-Led, Veteran-Led)

Busy Baby LLC, led by mompreneur Beth Fynbo, has developed a 100% silicone mat that suctions to smooth surfaces. The mat contains a proprietary tether system to attach toys to the mat so toys remain within baby’s reach and germ-free.

 

HipStar LLC (General Division)

HipStar has created a hands-free travel cart, which attaches to the hip, to increase mobility during travel.

 

Phenomix Sciences (Life Science/Health IT Division)

Phenomix Sciences, founded by Mayo Clinic physicians Dr. Andres Acostas and Dr. Michael Camilleri, aims to fight obesity. Phenomix Sciences has developed a blood test to categorize obesity patients into specific sub-types for improved targeting of therapeutics.

 

Phraze (Life Science/Health IT Division)

Co-founded by Mayo Clinic physician Dr. Brandon McCutcheon, Phraze has developed an AI medical scribe that reduces screen time between patients and physicians, increases the note taking capacity of physicians, and enhances clinical workflow.

 

Amicii (Youth Division)

Amicii, founded by John Marshall High School student Daniel Fleury, utilizes deep learning to deliver medical diagnostics for diseases such as pneumonia or skin cancer in under five seconds.

 

DiscoverMe (Youth Division, Minority-Led, Women-Led)

The DiscoverMe app was created by an all-female team of Mayo and Century High School students as part of Technovation[MN]. Technovation[MN] is the local chapter of the global Technovation challenge to empower teen girls to use coding to solve real problems they see in their everyday lives.

 

Congratulations to the six Olmsted County teams remaining in the competition! The semifinal round of Minnesota Cup will run into late August. Each division will narrow from ten semifinalists to three finalists to enter into the next stage of the competition this September. The Minnesota Cup will culminate in a final awards ceremony on October 14th in Minneapolis.

Four Rochester Biotech Teams Showcase Technology at Seventh Walleye Tank Business Pitch Competition

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Four Rochester biotech startup teams competed in the seventh Walleye Tank business pitch competition this May in Minneapolis for the chance to enter into the semifinal round of the Minnesota Cup. Eighteen total startups pitched their technologies at this event. At the end of the competition, Twin Cities startups Ascension and Morari Medical walked away as overall winners.  

Startups enter into this biotech competition in two different categories: the Junior Angler or Professional Division. Junior Anglers are newer teams with ideas at the pre-prototype stage. Professional teams are further along in the business development process and may have a minimal viable product, market traction, and sales. 

Teams are judged by a panel of startup and business development experts called Walleyes. This year, Junior Anglers were judged by: Perry Hackett, serial entrepreneur and Professor of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development at the University of Minnesota; Susan Kimmel, market research expert and Gopher Angel; Traci Downs, serial entrepreneur and founder of Collider Coworking and Area 10 Labs; Mary MacCarthy, entrepreneur and Venture Center Program Manager with the University of Minnesota’s Office of Technology Commercialization; and bio tech expert Fernando Bazan. Professional teams were judged by: Sara Russick, entrepreneur and founder of investment groups Gopher Angels and Capita3; Julie Henry, Director of Business Operations for Mayo Clinic Ventures and Mayo Clinic’s Department of Business Development; Russ Straate, Associate Director of the University of Minnesota Venture Center; and Meg Steuer, Manager of Forge North with Greater MSP.

Four teams from Rochester participated in Walleye Tank including Smart Lead and MD to Me in the Junior Angler Division and Phenomix and Phraze in the Professional Division.

Smart Lead, presented by Dr. Alaa Sada, is tackling an uncomfortable garment, the radiation shield, that’s required to be worn by healthcare providers anytime they are exposed to radiation. The vest weighs about ten pounds and is often worn for very long hours. Use of the garment can lead to discomfort, bodily pain, burnout, and musculoskeletal injury. To solve this problem, the team behind Smart Lead is developing a more ergonomic vest that will continue to provide radiation protection with increased comfort due to added technology. The Smart Lead team of Mayo Clinic physicians is now working with Mayo Clinic’s Department of Business Development and Division of Biomedical Engineering to develop their first prototype. They estimate a $2.75M market for their product at Mayo Clinic alone. 

MD to Me, presented by Mayo Clinic graduate student Chris Paradise, aims to “take back control of high blood pressure.” Approximately 100M Americans are affected by high blood pressure. Only 50% of these patients have the disease under control with about 1,000 deaths occurring each day from hypertension related conditions. To solve this problem, MD to Me is developing an IoT blood pressure cuff paired with an app platform to provide real time blood pressure data to patients. Blood pressure data will additionally be monitored by a physician. The team aims to reduce medical and ER visits with their technology.

Phenomix Sciences, presented by COO Ross Higgins, is a Mayo Clinic startup founded by two physician researchers. The business aims to provide a precision medicine, multi-omics approach to treat obesity. Over 40% of the US adult population is obese, leading to $480B of direct costs to the healthcare system annually. In addition, two-thirds of obesity patients do not respond to their prescribed treatments. To solve this problem, Phenomix is pairing an AI-driven algorithm with a panel of biomarkers, which they’ve licensed from Mayo Clinic, to develop the first blood test to segment obesity patients for therapeutic targeting.

Phraze, presented by COO Jack Schneeman, has developed an AI-driven medical scribe to automate a significant portion of physician medical note taking requirements. More than 50% of physician time is spent on Electronic Medical Record (EMR) documentation. This amount of documentation is the number one cause of physician burnout. Burnout, in turn, can cause a 300% increase in the medical error rate. Phraze’s technology was shown to save about 1.5 hours per day for physicians based on simulations and testing. 

Twin Cities-based team Ascension was named the overall Junior Division winner of Walleye Tank. This startup, presented by product design engineer Lyndsey Calvin, is developing innovative solutions for transgender health. Vaginoplasty, a current care option for transgender women, involves the surgical reconstruction of the vagina. This procedure has a 50% complication rate, costing over $25,000 per patient to treat. To solve this problem, Ascension is creating a single use flushing stent to provide an improved care option. The stent is placed in the vagina during the vaginoplasty procedure and is replaced monthly for the first ninety days with a larger sized stent. This process replicates dilation and reduces the burden of compliance barriers for vaginoplasty patients. Ascension is currently targeting a $1.5B marketing that’s growing at a 41% rate.

Minneapolis-based Morari Medical won this spring’s Professional Division of Walleye Tank. This startup, presented by CEO Jeff Bennett, is developing the first ever device-based solution to premature ejaculation (PE). PE is the number one sexual dysfunction in men. It affects one in three men and results in decreased quality of life for both men and women. The Morari team is addressing this problem through neuromodulation with a small, band-aid sized device to inhibit neural activity and delay an ejaculation.

Congratulations to all the Walleye Tank participants. Best of luck to Ascension and Morari Medical in the Minnesota Cup! Look for Walleye Tank to return to Rochester for the eighth edition on December 6th. 

#Emerge Episode 26 with Leah, Eileen, and Tyler

Just in time for the one-year anniversary of their ownership of the business, we sit down with Canvas and Chardonnay owners Leah Joy Bee, Eileen Bruns, and Tyler Aug. Canvas and Chardonnay is a cooperative art space located in downtown Rochester that offers a variety of classes including painting, weaving, plant classes, and yoga. Today on the show we talk more about the business and what initiatives are taking place in Rochester right now that these innovators are particularly excited about.

Local Businesses Ambient Clinical Analytics and FAVR Inc. Share their Startup Stories at Latest 1 Million Cups Rochester

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Last week two local startups earned the spotlight at 1 Million Cups Rochester: Ambient Clinical Analytics and FAVR Inc. Ambient Clinical Analytics, led by CEO Al Berning, is a digital health startup delivering innovative bedside predicative analytics. FAVR, an app-based tech startup led by CEO Solomon Antoine, serves as a peer to peer platform allowing customers to request a task at their own set price.

Serial entrepreneur Berning has started four companies in the last twenty-five years including LiquidCool Solutions, a Rochester company developing cooling solutions for electronics, and Pemstar, an electronics manufacturing firm. Berning’s newest startup, Ambient Clinical Analytics, is based on Mayo Clinic technology, which was developed over the past ten years in the Mayo Clinic ICU and emergency departments. Ambient Clinical Analytics sells real time clinical decision-making support tools to reduce clinical staff decision rate time and to eliminate errors. The startup has been in operation for five years selling to hospitals and hospital systems across the globe. The company has raised $7M in funding to date and is in the process of closing a $1M convertible note bridge round. Ambient Clinical Analytics has four products on the market, all aimed to reduce information overload on clinical caregivers and to organize and present data to enable rapid and informed clinical decision making. 

FAVR Inc.’s iOS app connects users with freelance workers to perform on demand lawn care and home chores. The app solves the users’ need to complete these tasks without use of their limited time while allowing a younger demographic of freelancers to earn money in their spare time. FAVR fills a unique space, allowing users to request tasks at their own set price. The app currently has two hundred fifty users on the platform, including customers and freelancers, all based in Rochester. The startup plans to expand its reach into four communities with a strong college base including Minneapolis, Brookings, Winona, and Mankato.

1 Million Cups is an educational event for entrepreneurs that takes place in one hundred eighty-two communities across the United States. 1 Million Cups Rochester occurs the first Wednesday of every month at 9AM in the Bleu Duck Kitchen event space. Join the community at the next event on Wednesday June 5th to hear the stories of two more entrepreneurs in our ecosystem.

Castle Community Aims to Create Welcoming Location in Rochester for Art and Cultural Community

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Born from a shared passion, the Castle Community aims to provide a space for art and cultural community within the city of Rochester. Located in the historic Armory Building on Broadway Avenue, the Castle Community is open to all and aims to offer patrons a new experience each time they visit.

Castle Community’s Naura Anderson explained that the building actually came first, and then the idea for what to do with that space followed. In 2017, the City of Rochester released a Request for Proposal (RFP) application for purchase or lease of the Armory Building, piquing the interest of Rochester natives and real estate professionals Scott Hoss and Ross Henderson. Hoss and Henderson began brainstorming ideas to utilize the space to fill gaps within Rochester. The men brought Anderson into the mix to involve the art community in their concept. 

“For us, community has always been important, along with unique gathering spaces that were not necessarily event driven. A place where you can just come and hang out and feel welcome, meet up with people, meet new people, discover something new,” Anderson explained.

Anderson, who has a long background in the arts, was especially driven to create a space for artists at all different levels of their practice. 

“My big passions are community and art, and finding that place where those connect is great. That means supporting artists as well as exploring your own creativity and learning something new,” she said. “I think if we can challenge that creative side of our brain more often, we'd all be in a better place.”

In May 2017, Castle Community LLC submitted a proposal to the City of Rochester to transform the Armory Building into an art and cultural community center. The team was selected to purchase the building in July 2017. Castle Community LLC obtained ownership of the Armory in December 2017 and began the demolition process within the 104-year-old space in early 2018.

“A lot of the work was removing that inner shell to discover what was behind it. We knew that there was history in this building and we wanted to preserve and showcase as much of that as we could,” Anderson explained.

The building interior, Anderson said, was basically gutted, with drywall removed to expose brick, drop ceilings torn down, and layers of flooring ripped up to expose the original hardwood. 

The Castle team selected Benike Construction for renovation work in the space, which began in July 2018. Benike had also restored the Conley-Maass-Downs building just a few years prior.  

“[Benike] was an awesome team to work with,” Anderson said. “Working with them is what got the project completed on time, on a deadline, and in a way that surpassed our expectations for quality.” 

The Castle Community opened its doors for the first time in November 2018.

The first-floor of the Castle Community houses brand new restaurant Cameo, run by Zach & Danika Ohly. The second floor contains businesses Collective Books & Records, Latent Space, Neon Green Studio, Queen City Coffee & Juice, and Yoga Tribe. This floor also includes an open area called the Castle Commons, a community space with free public WiFi, tables and chairs, soft seating, and games, where anyone is welcome to work, play, meet, and connect completely free of charge.

The 501(c)3 nonprofit Threshold Arts, of which Anderson serves as Director, also leases space on the second and third floors of the Castle. Threshold Arts programs and activates the community and event spaces and manages the artistic programs within the Castle. Threshold Arts contains private artist studios, an event hall, gallery, community studio, artist makerspace, green room and a community darkroom. 

To activate the artist studios, Threshold runs an Artist in Residence program which provides local artists with subsidized space to make, show, and sell their art for a period of three to six months. This program was designed, Anderson explained, to ensure turn over and to open up opportunities for even more artists. Threshold is currently wrapping up their very first Artist in Residency cohort. Anderson said the contributions made by this first group, both in their art and to the community, have been incredible.

The Community Studio on the third floor is a conference-style room which is available for community groups to use for meetings at no charge. The 4,500 square foot event venue, Les Fields Hall, can accommodate up to 450 people and is used for concerts, weddings, banquets, and other community celebrations.

“It is truly a great community of tenants and partners within the building,” Anderson said. “And seeing the community that is developing within that has been wonderful. Seeing people come together, discover what we’re doing here, and return regularly is everything we dreamed of and more. We are developing relationships in the community that would not have happened without this space.” 

As the Castle Community continues to gain traction in the city, Anderson said to expect more art and additional ways to connect with the community at the space. 

“Little things are always changing around here, and our goal is for there to be something new to see or do every time you return,” she said. “We want this to be a place where people continue to come back to because they know it’s never going to be the same twice.”

New Rochester Microcinema Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse Hosts Grand Opening Celebration this Friday

Photo courtesy of Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse.

Photo courtesy of Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse.

Rochester’s only microcinema, Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse, is set to open its doors this Friday. Theater owner Andy Smith hopes the business will help to build and support a vibrant film community in Rochester while retaining a distinctly Minnesotan vibe.

A Los Angeles native, Smith has a strong love for film, the film production industry, and spaces that build community around film. A former teacher, he had never launched his own business before but had always enjoyed starting something new and creating. Driven by this passion, Smith and his wife Anna developed the concept for a new microcinema business with their sights set on the upper Midwest. After looking at multiple locations and communities, Smith responded to a property listing by local commercial real estate agent Bucky Beeman and quickly narrowed his search to Rochester. 

Smith said Beeman was instrumental in not only finding the eventual end location for Gray Duck, he also introduced the couple to many local small business owners to begin their relationship building process.

Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse, located at 619 6th Avenue Northwest, will be smaller than your typical cinema, seating about sixty-six people.

“But we like that and it will build community, build intimacy, while not sacrificing any of the excellence that you’re used to in a move theater,” Smith explained. 

Gray Duck aims to showcase a “well rounded film diet” Smith said, including independent films, documentaries, large budget films, and the classics.

“We’re going to show excellent movies here. But we also just love movies,” he explained.

In addition to films, Gray Duck will offer a full-service coffee shop at the location in partnership with Fiddlehead Coffee. Movies will show Friday through Sunday. The coffee shop will be open all week, including outside of movie showtimes.

Regular movie tickets at Gray Duck will run for $8. Theater patrons can also purchase a “Flying V” subscription membership for $20 per month to attend an unlimited number of regular movie showings at no additional cost. The Gray Duck venue will also be available to rent for private showings or events outside of the regular movie showtimes.

While Smith developed his love for film in LA, he wants Gray Duck to be authentic to this region.

“We’re very purposefully being local and Minnesota centric,” he explained.

All of the concessions offered at the business will be locally sourced, from coffee to popcorn. Smith additionally hopes to build out a nonprofit arm of Gray Duck to help empower local film makers and to support a vibrant local film culture.

“We’re just excited to be here and we really want to build a really strong community,” he explained. 

Gray Duck will host its grand opening party this Friday night showing the 1925 Charlie Chaplin silent film The Gold Rush. Tickets are on sale for $75 a piece for this formal red-carpet event, which includes live musical accompaniment.

Gray Duck’s complete movie showing schedule for May is currently available on their website.

Thanks to The Commission for hosting a “Sneak Peak” last Thursday of this new-to-Rochester business!

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.  

Local Entrepreneur Hopes to Unite People Through Tacos with Taco JED

Photo courtesy of  AB-Photography.us.

Photo courtesy of AB-Photography.us.

Local entrepreneur Steve Dunn is filling a gap in the Rochester food scene with his business Taco JED. Dunn aims for his restaurant to be welcoming to everyone in the community and to bring people together through a love of tacos.

Dunn, a native of Grand Forks, North Dakota, began his career in insurance and commercial real estate before setting his sights on food.

“I got into the whole taco business is because of the recession,” Dunn explained. 

The economic downturn hit the commercial real estate market hard, causing financial strain for Dunn’s employer. At that point, Dunn decided to leave real estate behind, launching a taco restaurant in 2010, called Rusty Taco, in Dallas, Texas alongside Rusty Fenton. After Rusty passed away, the restaurant was acquired by Buffalo Wild Wings in 2014 and is now owned by Inspire Brands. Rusty Taco franchises have opened in thirty-one different locations in eight states. Dunn moved from Dallas to Minneapolis to help grow the brand working with Buffalo Wild Wings. He spent several years growing the Franchise business as CEO of Rusty Taco, before deciding it was time to move on yet again and open up a restaurant of his very own.

Dunn knew he wanted to launch his newest business somewhere in Minnesota to stay close to family. His siblings currently live around the Twin Cities and parents live in Bemidji.  His son attends Concordia Saint Paul and his daughters study in Nebraska. After researching several markets, Dunn chose Rochester.

“Rochester is the fastest growing city in Minnesota,” he explained. “I checked out the competition and felt that I had a little niche that I could fit into.”

Dunn found a location for his business along South Broadway and opened his newest endeavor, Taco JED, on October 4th of last year.

“We want [the restaurant] to be open and inviting to everyone. Our motto is ‘Tacos Unite People,’” he said. 

Dunn hopes to keep Taco JED as local as possible with Rochester beers on tap, local art on the walls, and live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

While building Taco JED, Dunn has been very intentional, down to the details. The restaurant itself is represented by a cartoon of a tousled-haired, sun glassed, cap wearing, bearded character called JED, who stands for whatever Dunn wants at any given moment. However, the name JED pays homage to Dunn’s father, grandfather, and great grandfather, all named Joseph Edward Dunn. In addition to the JED mascot, many other seemingly random items in the restaurant have significant purpose. A rooster image in dining area of the restaurant is from Dunn’s mother. Photography from Dunn’s brother adorns the walls, including an image for one of Dunn’s daughters. Albums lining the walls were chosen by people who worked on the restaurant. Gifted fan art of JED hangs on a wall near the kitchen, created by local artist Brian Jungers. Motorcycle helmets donated by customers, representing one of JED’s favorite hobbies, line the restaurant. A large display Dunn built himself hangs along a side wall displaying patches from all sixty national parks, encouraging people to “Go see the world and eat tacos.”

While the layout of the restaurant is similar to what Dunn was accustomed to with Rusty Taco, he called on Dallas designer Brent McMahon to help bring his new vision to life. Beyond a common blueprint, Dunn was able to apply many lessons learned from Rusty Taco to the current business, but said staffing was originally a challenge. Dunn says he’s happy with the progress Taco JED has made over the last few months and feels the food itself has been well received in the community. 

Taco JED will soon be open on Sundays, along with more live music. JED’s Shed, the bar portion of the restaurant, is currently building a patio for outdoor seating, which will be serving margaritas soon.

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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#Emerge 25 with Laura Elwood

Today on our latest #Emerge video we sit down with Rochester native and fierce female entrepreneur Laura Elwood, owner of Chamberlain Concierge & Lifestyle Management. This business just reached its three-year anniversary, providing limo service coupled with a concierge menu to bridge the gap between a client’s need for visiting Rochester to the local hospitality industry.

“If you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to find a way to make it done. And I’m going to find a way to make it done better than what you expected. I think it’s really easy to be competitive with other people. It’s harder to be competitive with yourself.” -Laura Elwood 

Check out the full interview with Laura in podcast Episode 125

Strong Women Creating Value 2019: Stacy Lequire, Co-Owner of Vitality Chiropractic

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Local entrepreneur, mom, and volunteer Dr. Stacy Lequire is helping her patients achieve control over their total health one step at a time. After returning to southeastern Minnesota from the Boston area in 2008, Stacy and her husband Ed co-founded their second business, Vitality Chiropractic, in Rochester and have been caring for patients, locally, ever since. 

“I’ve always been a questioner and a seeker of answers,” said Lequire.  

After obtaining her chemistry degree from University of Wisconsin- La Crosse, she knew her career was headed in a different direction, enrolling in Northwestern Health Sciences University to obtain her Doctor of Chiropractic. Since that time, she’s seen the difference chiropractic care can make and how one change can cause an “upward spiral” towards better health.

“For me, health is about habits. So, I try and look at those little things we do. I don’t think there’s one big thing that changes everything. It’s a lot of little habits,” she explained.

Lequire’s observed a definite need in the community for the services Vitality Chiropractic offers, where she and Ed develop long term relationships with their patients and help them make lifestyle changes. 

“We try to come in in the early innings to say, ‘Hey, this is about you making choices. This is about you being empowered to do things for your own health,’” she explained.

Launching a business like Vitality Chiropractic in a highly medical community is always a challenge, Lequire said. As a wife, mom, entrepreneur, and volunteer, time is another challenge to building her business and forging more connections in the community. 

While the Lequires are growing their own business, they’re also incubating other small health and wellness companies at their northwest Rochester location. Vitality Chiropractic houses several partners in their building- including Kim Kraft Therapeutic Massage and Fitness 4 Ever- to help keep costs low for these entrepreneurs and to help them flourish.

“We feel like we are creating something unique in the community with the partners that we have here. I love being able to get into people’s lives in that way when it comes to health,” Lequire explained.

Strong Women Creating Value Season 1, Episode 4: Stacy Lequire

This week we wrap up our Strong Women Creating Value series for 2019 sharing the story of Stacy Lequire, Co-Owner of Vitality Chiropractic.

"I'm always in awe of people, women entrepreneurs, because I know from the handful of people that I interact with regularly, that it's a huge juggling act." -Stacy Lequire

Strong Women Creating Value 2019: Amanda Steele and Brittany Baker, Owners of MedCity Doulas

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Rochester entrepreneurs Amanda Steele and Brittany Baker are breaking down barriers and working together to serve families and other “bad ass” women in the community. In 2016, the pair founded MedCity Doulas to offer support to women from pregnancy through postpartum.

These strong women are here to prove that being a doula- a trained professional that offers physical, emotional, and informational support to mothers- is a sustainable career option for themselves and for others seeking to help women with these highly specialized services. The pair specifically works to build “bridges between patients and medical staff for a more positive experience on the patient’s end,” Baker explained.

These entrepreneurs were driven to create MedCity Doulas in response to a general lack of support, especially postpartum, for mothers in the community. 

Baker’s personal postpartum experience was extremely positive- she was hired late in her pregnancy by her employers and was encouraged to bring her newborn to work- although she quickly learned this was not the norm. Steele saw many families having negative and traumatizing experiences as new parents. She became passionate about supporting parents during that time frame and molding new parenthood into a positive experience. 

While fueled by passion to bring MedCity Doulas to life, these innovators faced significant challenges to get the business running. The first obstacle was basic education about the role of doulas and convincing people it was a professional service that deserved a cash exchange.

“We are women selling traditional women’s work as a professional service. So, wrapping people’s heads around that idea, that we are here to mother mothers and that has a dollar value, has been a hard concept for some people,” Baker explained.

Steele said the pair was not taken seriously when they first started out. Although both women are highly educated- Steele is finishing up her master’s degree and Baker has a degree in design plus management experience- the doula field is not always taken seriously. They faced particular roadblocks when seeking financial assistance for the business.

“We didn’t give up. We went to four different banks before somebody believed in what we were doing,” Steele explained.

With the three-year anniversary of MedCity Doulas fast approaching, these women are looking forward to continued growth of the business in the community to support families.  

“It’s exciting that we have a women-owned business in 2019 in Rochester, Minnesota in an industry that is related to healthcare,” Baker said. “We are really lucky to be operating here specifically.”

While MedCity Doulas has certainly blossomed over the past years, these entrepreneurs have also witnessed much change in the female entrepreneurial community in Rochester, especially with increased events and resources for women in business.

“I’m really hopeful for all the things I’ve seen so far in the community and all the things that are being built,” Steele explained. “But it’s also hard because now that we have more things we’re pulled in more directions.”

She said in particular we still need more balance to integrate moms into these events and activities, especially those individuals without childcare options.

Strong Women Creating Value Season 1 Episode 3: Amanda Steele and Brittany Baker

In the third part of our "Strong Women Creating Value" series we chat with Rochester entrepreneurs Amanda Steele and Brittany Baker, owners of MedCity Doulas. MedCity Doulas is a Rochester-based doula agency providing emotional, physical, and educational support through pregnancy, brith, and postpartum.

"We're women offering women-based care and sometimes that's not looked upon as a profession." -Amanda Steele

Redefining Entrepreneurship: A Look At The Current Model

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“It’s your right to be uncommon if you can. You seek opportunity to compete. You desire to take the calculated risk, to dream, to build, yes, even to fail, and to succeed.” -Ewing Marion Kauffman

What is an entrepreneur? Why does entrepreneurship matter? 

According to Investopedia an entrepreneur is “an individual who, rather than working as an employee, founds and runs a small business, assuming all the risks and rewards of the venture.” A simple web search indicates that an entrepreneur is “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.” Finally, the Kauffman Foundation defines entrepreneurs as “people who turn ideas into reality, charging directly into the headwinds to create something of value where there was no value before.” 

These definitions have several common threads, with room for additional thoughts to be added to the concept.

Consider these thoughts. 

An entrepreneur is someone who: 

1.     Takes some sort of calculated risk. Entrepreneurs are not pursuing an idea that is a “sure thing”; failure of some sort is on the table. The risks involved can include a novel product or service or an aggressive business model. Entrepreneurs face financial risks and have their own money as some of the first invested to launch their businesses. Entrepreneurs may also face job insecurity. Exploring entrepreneurship often involves leaving long and stable careers behind to pursue the uncertain.

2.     Has expertise that gives them a competitive advantage in their target market. This knowledge, experience, and insight allows only this particular entrepreneur to bring forth this business in a specific market.

3.     Has created a product or service that a business can be built around. An entrepreneur develops a product or service that’s driven by market demand and customer need. Even if no sales have been made, an entrepreneur has identified a customer base that will pay for their product or service.

4.     Is driven by passion to bring forth a solution that no one else is currently providing.

We often think of entrepreneurs as individuals operating in the tech space, creating high growth potential businesses that can reach multiple markets with expansive revenue streams. However, anyone with a solid business idea bringing something of value to the market is an entrepreneur. This includes people building highly scalable startups. But it also includes small business owners, including people with zero or few employees. This definition also includes franchise owners. These individuals are creating a business in a specific geographic market in which the business did not exist. This still involves risk, market research, and financial investment.

Why is entrepreneurship important?

Entrepreneurs are economic drivers. They create new businesses, jobs, and opportunity for themselves and for others. Entrepreneurs are driven by a need to solve real problems facing our society. They often encourage a different way of thinking and doing. The entrepreneurial mindset and problem solving based on a defined need and customer feedback is of value in small and large organizations alike.

 Entrepreneurship matters. It’s time to start rethinking our definition of an entrepreneur.

New Brewery Aims to Open Doors in Rochester in 2019

From left to right: Brian Miller and Steve Patterson of Prime Stein Brewery. Photo courtesy of Prime Stein Brewery.

From left to right: Brian Miller and Steve Patterson of Prime Stein Brewery. Photo courtesy of Prime Stein Brewery.

Entrepreneurs Brian Miller and Steve Patterson are seeking to make their mark on the Rochester craft beer scene. The pair aim to open their business, Prime Stein Brewery, in this city by the end of 2019 adding their fresh, approachable style of beers to the Rochester palate. 

“I’ve been thinking of a way to be my own boss and own my own business for a long time,” explained Miller.

He began searching for something he was passionate about that could also create value for others, eventually landing on brewing.

Since then, Miller’s developed fifteen different craft beer recipes, including a “solid amber beer.” Patterson came onto Prime Stein about eighteen months ago to assist in marketing efforts for the business. The pair aim to create beers for everyone through Prime Stein, not just products for the craft beer enthusiast. Instead, they say their beers are not the darkest or the hoppiest and contain less intrusive flavors.

“It’s just really welcoming, local craft beer,” explained Miller.

Although relatively new to the brewing scene, these innovators are putting in the work, brewing up to five to six times a month out of Patterson’s basement.

“We’re basically trying to shove ten years of knowledge into two,” Patterson laughed. 

Right now, Prime Stein is more of a brand than a brewery. Currently, Miller and Patterson cannot sell beer, but they can donate it. Last year they were involved in several events in the community where locals could sample their brews including the Soaked in the Sun Followed by a Night of Fun event this summer at the History Center of Olmsted County and Stationary Astronaut’s Meeting of the Minds this fall.

Currently the men brew using a one-barrel system, which can create thirty-one gallons of beer.

Miller and Patterson look forward to contributing to the rapidly growing craft beer culture in Rochester, where they say so much work has already been done. 

“But the whole process is so long because you can’t sell until you have a license and you can’t get a license until you have commercially zoned property,” explained Patterson. “So basically, you run in circles until you get a break through. And we actually hit one now so we can make some progress on that now.”

Miller and Patterson are currently working on a letter of intent to lease property in Rochester for the brewery.

“We aim to be serving our very first beer by December 31st of 2019,” Miller said. 

Although neither entrepreneur has ever opened a brewery before, they’ve entered into the process prepared and head-on. Miller wrote a forty-page business plan, which the pair took to business consultant Rick Indrelie at the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for assistance. SBDC, explained Patterson, was a wonderful resource for business growth and provided valuable reality checks.   

Patterson has had several side hustles to date and understood how to obtain things like federal and state tax identification numbers. But the process of seeking commercial space, filing the right paperwork, and seeking bank loans was all quite new.

Both men eventually hope to work full time in the brewery. But for now, they’re dedicated to doing whatever it takes to get this first location open in Rochester.

“The ten-year plan is to have several breweries opened under the Prime Stein name. We are hoping we can make that work,” said Patterson.

You can learn more about Prime Stein Brewery and keep up to date on their progress by following them on Facebook (@PrimeSteinBrewery), Instagram (@primesteinbrewing), and Twitter (@PrimeSteinBrew).

Where Are They Now?: Penz Dental Care

Photo courtesy of Penz Dental Care.

Photo courtesy of Penz Dental Care.

Fifteen months ago, we first shared the story of Penz Dental Care, a brand-new dental practice run by Rochester native Dr. Matt Penz, DDS and wife Kate. The business opened in September 2016 along 2nd Street Southwest. A year and a half later, the office has added extended hours to their schedule and increased their staff to continue their efforts as an open, community-focused practice.

When we first spoke in May 2017, the dental practice consisted of Matt and Kate Penz, an assistant, and a part time staff member at the front desk. The office was open two and a half days a week. Now, Penz Dental Care is full time, open Monday through Thursday with some extended evening hours. The staff has also doubled, operating now with two part time dental hygienists, a full-time assistant, and a full-time person at the front desk. Penz Dental Care has also added a third operatory, increasing their ability to provide care to patients. 

“It’s been exciting to see all the efforts come to reality,” said Dr. Penz.

The office, Dr. Penz explained, functions as one big team, completing tasks regardless of job title. Dr. Penz himself often sweeps the floor and takes out the trash. 

“That has been the really fun part to see, how our staff has come together and just share the common values,” he said. “It took a bit of navigating to get there, but I feel like we have a cohesive staff and everybody’s on the same page and believes in our mission and our vision. Hopefully that radiates to patients who tell other patients who are looking for a dentist.” 

Dr. Penz has learned to hire smarter and more efficiently over the last year, understanding how essential the right staff is for an emerging business. Change and improvements, he explained, can be implemented quickly within a small team. He looks to hire people who are able to buy into the office mission and have pride in what the practice represents. 

Dr. Penz has also learned lessons in marketing and patient growth since the launch of the dental practice. He originally aimed to grow the practice slowly and intentionally, re-investing much of the first profits back into the business. Word of mouth has been the most effective way to grow their patient base since the business opened. However, Penz Dental Care has been very intentional with their social media marketing, using it as a tool to offer glimpses into their personal lives to build relationships with their patients and with the community.

“We wanted to make connections with our patients and wanted to make them feel like this is home,” Dr. Penz said. “Now a days, especially as a startup, if you’re not utilizing [social media], you’re going to be left behind. You can have a great offering and a great story, a great staff, but if nobody knows about you, it doesn’t do you any good.”

The Penz family itself has also grown over the past year. When the business first launched in 2016, Matt and Kate had one child, a daughter named Sophie. Lucy was born shortly after the practice opened. This year, the Penz family welcomed their third daughter, named Ella.

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the business’s dedication to the community. As a Rochester native, Dr. Penz loves being in this city and wants to give back to his community. A former Mayo High School quarterback, he’s formed partnerships with several high school teams as well as the Med City Freeze and Med City Mafia roller derby team to provide protective mouthguards. The office has also worked with Rochester MN Moms Blog to co-host events like Donuts with Santa this past December.

Now, Penz Dental Care aims to continue to grow their patient base intentionally, hoping to add more staff as needed. Dr. Penz also looks to bring more technology to the office to help the practice increase their efficiency to provide patient care. 

You can learn more about Penz Dental Care by visiting their website or by catching up on Facebook (@penzdental), Instagram (@penzdentalcare), or Twitter (@PenzDentalCare).

Where are they Now: UNRAVELED Escape Room

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Last October we shared the story of husband and wife team Jackie and Ryan Steiner, owners of UNRAVELED Escape Room. The Steiners have always been business owners, but made a dramatic shift in their careers two years ago to open their current endeavor, a sixty-minute locked room challenge, on December 1, 2016.

On nearly the two-year anniversary of its launch, UNRAVELED Escape Room remains a leading puzzle room challenge in Rochester; the Steiners are currently seeking innovative ways to scale the business and are expecting a two-hundred percent uptick in business growth compared to their first full year.

“We are already proving to be Rochester’s top choice for a go-to fun group experience, so being able to share these exciting experiences with other people is our ultimate goal,” explained Ryan Steiner.  

Since we spoke about one year ago, Jackie and Ryan developed a brand-new business category for UNRAVELED, called Wits & Grits. This novel, team-based 5K challenge includes an outdoor obstacle course with escape room style stations “where you challenge your brain and brawn together.” The Steiners have also rolled out Mobile and Mini Escapes- 6’x6’ puzzles or 2’x2’ lock boxes, respectively- that can be rented out for parties or other events.

This past year, Jackie and Ryan have also immersed themselves in several business courses to reframe their mindsets and to allow the pair to steamroll UNRAVELED Escape Room forward. In 2019, they plan to completely revamp all three current UNRAVELED puzzle challenges, including adding on a brand new “Upside Down Room” concept.

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