Business Development

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. 

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.

9 Tips to Sharpen Your Sales Skills

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Here are nine sales tips from local business expert Marianne Collins. Professor Collins has over three decades of business development experience. She’s currently a Professor of Marketing, Department Chair, and Director of the Strauss Center for Sales Excellence at Winona State University.

Professor Collins’ “Sharpening Your Sales Skills” talk was part of the Business Expert Series held by the Winona State University College of Business and Collider Coworking.

 

Nine Tips to Sharpen Your Sales Skills:

  1. Remember that the buying journey has changed, especially with the Internet. Now, a buyer is 2/3rds of the way through the buying process before approaching sellers. But the marketplace is even more complex and often overwhelming to buyers.

  2. Develop long term relationships with potential buyers instead of trying to rapidly close sales.

  3. Selling is a conversation. Make an effort to understand what your buyer needs. Ask questions to help the buyer understand what you can offer.

  4. Think of your interaction with potential buyers more as consulting than selling. Position yourself as an expert in your field and know your competition.

  5. Serve as a “buying Sherpa” and help to guide buyers through the complex marketplace. Become a partner to potential buyers and help navigate alternatives and guide them through the buying process.

  6. Stop cold calling. You need to disqualify leads to buyers for which you cannot provide a solution. Don’t chase buyers for which you aren’t a good fit.

  7. Create buyer personas to understand your customer and what experience they want.

  8. Changing the status quo is your biggest competition as a seller

  9. Shorten the sales cycle by creating your value proposition to clearly understand what value you bring to the table and how you are differentiated from your competition.

Potbelly Opens Second Location in Rochester Today

Congrats to local Potbelly owners for opening up their second location in Rochester! Six years after opening the original Potbelly on 1st Avenue, franchisee owners have opened the doors to a second restaurant at 3801 Market Place Drive NW. The new location will be managed by Laura Hessling, with the original downtown Potbelly under the management of Jessica Conrad. Oversight at both restaurants will continue to be run by Kirk Gordon. Both Rochester Potbelly locations are owned by Kirk and Kim Gordon, Bill and Erin Nystrom, and John and Sandy Rogness.

New MN DEED Commissioner Steve Grove Stops in Rochester to Hear from SE MN Entrepreneurs

Photo courtesy of RAEDI. Back row from left to right: Ryan Nolander, President of RAEDI; Chris Schad, Director of Business Development for Discovery Square; Samantha Strand, Executive Director at Garage Co-Work Space; Jame Sundsbak, Community Manager of Collider Coworking; Andy Vig, Cofounder of SHRPA; Sean Williams, Cofounder of Comicker LLC. Front row from left to right: Judy Lundy, Innovation Coordinator with Austin Community Growth Ventures; Neela Mollgaard, Executive Director at Red Wing Ignite; Carla Nelson, Minnesota State Senator; Shruthi Naik, Cofounder at Vyriad; Steve Grover, Commissioner at MN DEED; Amanda Leightner, Founder of Rochester Rising; and Xavier Frigola, Director of Entrepreneurship at RAEDI.

Photo courtesy of RAEDI. Back row from left to right: Ryan Nolander, President of RAEDI; Chris Schad, Director of Business Development for Discovery Square; Samantha Strand, Executive Director at Garage Co-Work Space; Jame Sundsbak, Community Manager of Collider Coworking; Andy Vig, Cofounder of SHRPA; Sean Williams, Cofounder of Comicker LLC. Front row from left to right: Judy Lundy, Innovation Coordinator with Austin Community Growth Ventures; Neela Mollgaard, Executive Director at Red Wing Ignite; Carla Nelson, Minnesota State Senator; Shruthi Naik, Cofounder at Vyriad; Steve Grover, Commissioner at MN DEED; Amanda Leightner, Founder of Rochester Rising; and Xavier Frigola, Director of Entrepreneurship at RAEDI.

Newly minted Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (MN DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove visited with entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders from across southeastern Minnesota in Rochester this Friday. His mission: to listen and learn about the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and to receive input on Governor Tim Walz’s proposal to spur innovation in the state.

Grove, a native of Northfield, Minnesota, was appointed into the Commissioner position with MN DEED by Walz after a long career in the private sector. As a trained journalist, Grove spent time at The Boston Globe and ABC News. Although new to MN DEED, Grove is no stranger to tech innovation. He spent over four years as Head of News and Politics at YouTube prior to his most recent post as Director of Google News.

While building his career on the west coast, Grove retained strong roots to the Midwest. He and wife Mary co-founded the nonprofit Silicon North Stars in 2013. This organization connects underserved tech-driven Minnesotan youth with tech startups and venture capital firms in Silicon Valley for an immerse learning experience. Mary Grove currently runs the Minneapolis office for the venture capital firm Rise of the Rest, an organization launched by AOL founder Steve Case to increase investment outside of the coasts. 

Now, Grove and Governor Walz are thinking of ways to grow the innovation economy in Minnesota to help foster the region as a powerhouse to start and grow tech companies.

Grove visited Rochester last week to meet with local entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial ecosystem builders, and local government to tour innovation sectors in Rochester and to better understand strengths and weaknesses in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Grove also received feedback and questions about the Governor’s $9M proposal to create a new Minnesota Innovation Collaboration (MIC). If approved, the MIC would utilize grants and other resources to make Minnesota a more attractive place to start a tech company. The program would be administered by MN DEED.  

“I think it’s great that the Commissioner comes to the position with private world experience in the technology and innovation sector. The program that he and the Governor are proposing seems to be on track and I think it was important that we were able to provide input,” said Ryan Nolander, President of Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. “Hopefully they take that input and create programs that are flexible enough to truly assist us with growing our regional entrepreneur ecosystem.” 

Walz’s MIC proposal includes a number of incentives to help lower the state’s risk aversion and encourage startup growth. Proposed incentives include one year of health insurance coverage and research and development vouchers. Walz’s proposal also includes the revival of the Angel Tax Credit in Minnesota to encourage investment in early stage Minnesotan startups. The credit expired in 2017.

“MIC could mean big things for all of Minnesota. We need to reduce barriers such as access to affordable healthcare to allow our makers, doers, and dreamers to start companies right here in Minnesota,” explained Jamie Sundsbak, Community Manager of Collider Coworking. “The MIC plan will also empower local ecosystem builders and will increase funding for entrepreneurial education at the local level. I applaud Governor Walz, Commissioner Grove, and everyone working on the legislation for their efforts.”

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

Strong Women Creating Value 2019: Christine Beech, Director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies

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To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re bringing back our popular “Strong Women Creating Value” series, telling the stories of four innovative women in Rochester. This year all four women were selected based on nominations from the community

To launch this series for 2019, today we chat with the amazing Christine Beech, Director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

In her role at the Kabara Institute, Christine fosters a spirit of entrepreneurship among her students and connects them to the surrounding entrepreneurial communities in both Winona and Rochester.

Christine’s nominator explained that she “goes very unrecognized for all of her efforts. As a newer member of the Rochester community, she put in a large amount of time and effort to meet with people in the community to understand the culture, understand what was needed, and understand where she could plug in. She always listens and asks advice of others. She does all these things without expectation of anything in return.”

Christine recently developed and launched a series of women-focused events, called WE (Women Entrepreneurs) forums, in partnership with Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. and others in the community. She held her first packed house event in January during a snowstorm. Her second event, a business development workshop, will be held in late March.

“What I think we are creating now is a platform for women-focused and women entrepreneurial community development with conversations around the issues that are facing them,” she explained.

Christine hopes to hold forums, which utilize a panel format, quarterly, and workshop events, where women focus on and work ona specific business skill sets, in between the forums. 

“One of my hopes is that one of the things that we’ll do with this forum is to create a place where women can come together and collaborate and work together,” she said.

Christine sees many talented women in the community who can speak at these forums and lead the workshops.

“We would like to create a venue where we are tapping into that talent for the benefit of the growing ecosystem,” she explained.

She sees new businesses as the “lifeblood of the economy.” However, many entrepreneurs starting new ventures lack focused business training and don’t know where to go for support. 

“I think there’s a need in the community for imparting those skills,” she explained. “We are starting with the female-focused group because I think that group specifically seems to be craving that kind of support for their business efforts.” 

This event takes place on Sunday March 31st from 10:30-12PM. Click the image for more information and to snag your ticket!

This event takes place on Sunday March 31st from 10:30-12PM. Click the image for more information and to snag your ticket!

This initiative is partly driven by her own experience. Christine spent fourteen years in business development before joining Kabara and recognized a lack of support for these efforts in her community. After joining academia, she saw a chance to give back to people who were in the early stages of building a business or had reached a plateau in business growth.

Christine additionally sees an immense need for evidence-based information on business development- putting numbers behind what works and what doesn’t work- instead of the typical personal anecdotes supplied by most mentors. She hopes to gather this type of informative data through the WE Forum events. 

While Christine knew these women-focused events were needed, there were several challenges she faced to get women to actually attend them. The first was brand recognition. Most people in Rochester associate the name “Saint Mary’s” with a hospital, not an academic institution. Many people are also unaware that Saint Mary’s even has a presence in Rochester, which is located in the northwest region of the city at the beautiful Cascade Meadow Wetlands. Her second challenge was connecting these events to the women most in need. To do this, Christine utilized her network, partnering with over twelve different institutions to help spread the word to diverse groups and get buy in from the community.

As a whole, Christine thinks it’s a good time to be part of the female entrepreneurial community in Rochester.

“We have incredible, brilliant physicians. We have women leading regional initiatives. We have women in a lot of very key points. So that, I think, is going to make a more attractive environment for female business startups,” she explained.

To accomplish this, Christine thinks women need to have their own network that’s collaborative, not competitive.

“And they need to plug in and start leveraging each other. I feel like that’s just building. It’s not quite there yet,” she said.

"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.

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).

Local Innovators Developing Board Game to Teach Empathy and Understanding

From left to right: James Perreault, Grace Pesch, and Jay Franson. Photo courtesy of Grace Pesch.

From left to right: James Perreault, Grace Pesch, and Jay Franson. Photo courtesy of Grace Pesch.

A trio of strangers spent a single weekend this October innovating and stepping outside of their comfort zones. Now, entrepreneurs Grace Pesch, Jay Franson, and James Perreault are seeking ways to further develop their board game to teach empathy and understanding.

Their product, called ‘What Were You Thinking?’, breaks down the nine Enneagram personality types to better inform players’ professional and personal relationships. The Enneagram is, an arguably, complicated model of the human psyche conveying basic fears, desires, and motivations.

At the surface, the ‘What Were You Thinking?’ game is simple. It’s composed of character cards and scenario cards. Each character card describes a person with one of the nine Enneagram personality types. The scenario cards describe a real-life situation, the funnier the better, plus reactions to that scenario. Each participant plays a character card they think best describes the reaction to the scenario. Whoever convinces the judge that their character card matches the scenario behavior the best, wins. 

On one level it’s just a matching game. But on a deeper note, the game involves rationalizing why your character, with the indicated personality type and tendencies, would react to a situation in a certain manner.  

“It causes the person that drew the card to really think outside of themselves and relate more to the card in hand, to the persona that’s on that card,” Franson explained. “The goal is to bring more awareness to the Enneagram as well as give language to different people’s personality types.”

The team believes this card game could be a unique way to teach empathy, improve relationships, and enhance team building. 

Pesch, Franson, and Perreault developed a prototype for the game during Techstars’ Startup Weekend Rochester. This fifty-four-hour event, held over Halloween weekend, helped participants explore their entrepreneurial tendencies, ideate, perform customer validation, and develop simple prototypes all in a single weekend. 

“I like to do things I’ve never done before. I like to try and expand my horizons and push myself,” Pesch explained. “I knew I was kind of scared and uncomfortable with the idea of doing Startup Weekend and I said, well I have to do it!” 

While Franson entered the weekend with the original idea for the game, Pesch and Perreault quickly joined on to further develop and test the concept.

By the end of Startup Weekend, the team developed a prototype with a minimal set of cards, built a website, and had pre-orders of the product. They also identified a potential game creation company to construct the product, set a price point, and researched drop shipping for product distribution.

All complete strangers at the beginning of the weekend, the team believes their flexibility, open mindedness, and unique skill sets helped them to succeed.  

“I think that personality is more important than actual knowledge. You don’t need an expert as much as you need someone that you can communicate with,” Franson said.

This was the first time that both Franson and Pesch ever participated in a Startup Weekend. Pesch, a person who prefers pacing herself and working well in advance on large projects, appreciated being forced to change her workstyle to deliver in such a limited time span. 

“I think I was most inspired by the lack of instruction [at Startup Weekend] because that’s real life. Really for the most part you go and figure it out. You can find a mentor or take a class, but it’s still up to you,” Franson said. “I thought that was immensely valuable because you learned so much more by doing it yourself.”

Now, the team is looking for help from the community to write more cards to complete their game. You can learn more and follow their progress by visiting their website https://wwyt.squarespace.com

Three Healthtech Teams Win Big at Sixth Walleye Tank

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This Friday, twenty-three different biotech teams traveled to Rochester to compete in the sixth Walleye Tank business pitch competition. This packed house event, organized by the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship and the Collider Foundation, not only served as a pitch contest. The event additionally brought together multiple pieces of the entrepreneurial ecosystem including venture capitalists, accelerator programs, medical experts, serial entrepreneurs, and business supportive services. In the end, Twin Cities companies NovoClade and ClinicianNexus and Mayo Clinic Florida team The QT Grid walked away as divisional winners. 

Teams competed in three different divisions at Walleye Tank based on stage of business development.

 

Junior Anglers

The first division, the Junior Anglers, included teams in the ideation phase of development who did not yet have a prototype. Nine different teams participated as Junior Anglers at the winter Walleye Tank, the largest group in the competition. 

Adjustable Fracture Nail team from Mayo Clinic Florida won second place in this division. Presented by Mayo Clinic Graduate School student Chris Mehner, Adjustable Fracture Nail targets the 15M patients suffering from long bone fractures in the US each year. These patients are typically treated by insertion of a single, non-adjustable nail into the bone to stabilize the fracture. This process, Mehner explained, it highly dependent on the surgeon’s expertise, resulting in 40% of fracture patients receiving a rotational error of the long bone. This additionally affects bone healing and may lead to joint issues. To solve this problem, the team is creating an adjustable nail containing an internal mechanism to extend the fracture line in the long bone. The nail would also utilize a laser-guided mechanism to finely adjust long bone rotation to the perfect angle. The team believes this product will produce reduced errors, lower surgical time, and decreased medical costs. They currently have a provisional patent on their design. 

Winning the Junior Angler division was the Twin Cities genome editing startup NovoClade. Presented by University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Senior Research Scientist Siba Das, NovoClade is developing SMART technology to control mosquito populations. Current insect management solutions, Das explained, are toxic and not species specific. NovoClade aims to genetically edit mosquito eggs to remove disease carrying insects from the population. The team of four leading the startup include University of Minnesota researchers with over eighty years of combined expertise in genome editing.

 

Mid-Level Reelers 

The second category, the Mid-Level Reelers division, included startups with a prototype or minimally viable product. These companies may or may not have product sales. Eight different teams competed in this division. 

Taking home second place in the Mid-Level category was Twin Cities startup Morari Medical. This startup, presented by healthcare marketing expert Jeff Bennett, addresses the number one male sexual dysfunction, premature ejaculation. Premature ejaculation affects one in three men and can negatively impact quality of life. The Morari Medical team seeks to treat this condition using neuro-modulation based devices to block or delay ejaculation. Neuromodulation is an evolving therapy that alters nerve activity, through chemical or electrical stimuli, at specific nerve sites in the body. With an estimated market size of $15M, Morari Medical is in the early feasibility prototyping stage of development.

Winning the Mid-Level Reeler division was Mayo Clinic Florida innovation The QT Grid. Presented by Postdoctoral Fellow Karim ReFaey, The QT Grid targets the 50M people across the world suffering from epilepsy. Epilepsy, a condition leading to changed electrical activity in the brain, can be caused by stroke, injury, or tumors on the brain or spinal cord, called gliomas. During surgery to remove these gliomas, surgeons also need to monitor electrical activity of the brain through recording electrodes. However, the monitoring devices currently on the market are either too expensive, too cumbersome, or lack complete functionality to perform these tasks. To solve this problem, this team has developed The QT Grid, a ring shaped, patented, and FDA cleared device that allows for 360-degree electrode recordings and readings from all desired areas of the brain simultaneously. The grid is additionally cheaper and more effective than other devices on the market, ReFaey explained.

 

Professional Division 

The final division, the Professionals, were established companies making sales and may be in fundraising mode. This division had six total participants.

Earning second place in the Professional division was Rochester company Ambient Clinical Analytics. Presented by CEO Al Berning, Ambient Clinical has developed a suite of clinical support tools. These solutions address information overload and physician burnout in healthcare settings by taking digital health data, sorting the data, and providing healthcare staff with the 1-5% of the data needed to make an informed decision. These SaaS products received Class II FDA clearance from the FDA. The products are sold on a subscription basis and are in worldwide use. Since launch of the company, Ambient has raised ~$8M to fuel business growth.

Taking home the win in the Professional division was Twin Cities company ClinicianNexus. Presented by CEO Katrina Anderson, this company is targeting the >1M medical students, daily, seeking a clinical rotation experience in over 500K clinical sites in the US alone. Traditionally this matching process is driven by the medical schools using technology as simple as a crowded excel sheet. The ClinicianNexus solution, a collaborative clinical education management tool, assists healthcare sites to proactively address their capacity to teach students; this information can then be shared with medical schools and students seeking to rotate at that particular medical location.

Competing Walleye Tank teams were judged by seasoned entrepreneurs, or “Walleyes,” including: Carla Pavone, Associate Director of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship; Perry Hackett, CEO at Recombinetics; Julie Henry, Enterprise IP Manager at Mayo Clinic; Mark Laisure, CEO at Vortex Media; Pam York, General Partner at Capita3; Bryan Clark, Fellow, Corporate Research at Boston Scientific; Dan Cunagin, Managing Partner at Invenshure; and Fernando Bazan, biotech expert. 

Rochester startup Nanodropper won the first ever Audience Favorite Award. This company, led by Mayo Clinic Medical Student Allisa Song, is developing a universal eye dropper adapter that administers the correct size of medical eye drops to reduce prescription waste.  

Teams fed into Walleye Tank from four different funnels including an open application, a Mayo Clinic Florida Alligator Tank, DMC’s Assistive Tech Challenge, and a Student Entrepreneurial Showcase. 

The next Walleye Tank will be held on May 3rd at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Five Local Biotech Student-Led Teams Advance to Walleye Tank

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Allisa Song, Nanodropper.

Allisa Song, Nanodropper.

Last Thursday local student-led innovation stole the limelight at the Entrepreneurial Student Showcase + Walleye Tank Student Qualifying Round, a collaboration between Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, Collider Coworking, and the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship. Seventeen different student teams from around the region competed in the event. Twelve of these teams pitched with the hope to enter Walleye Tank, a Minnesota-based biotech business pitch competition. From this student qualifying round, five teams were deemed ready to compete in Walleye Tank, which will take place tomorrow in Rochester. Advancing teams included Nanodropper, NeuroCog, Malleus, UVCanopy, and Intelligent Parking Solutions.

Nanodropper, presented by Mayo Clinic Medical Student Allisa Song, is addressing wasted eyedrop medications from unnecessary overflow during application of meds; the normal amount of liquid dispensed from eye drop bottles is five times that which can be absorbed by the human eye, according the Nanodropper team. In glaucoma treatment alone, excessive waste from eye drops can cost up to $500 per bottle. This waste is a large problem for low income patients or patients that run out of medication before their prescription can be refilled. To solve this problem, the Nanodropper team has developed a medical grade, single-use silicone eye drop adapter that reduces the size of dispensed eye drops to a volume that can be absorbed by the human eye to reduce medical eye drop waste. This adapter has a universal fit and is patent-pending. The team plans to deliver the product to customers through eye care clinics at a cost of $12.99, resulting in an 86% profit margin. By 2020, ~80M patients will be diagnosed with glaucoma, resulting in an estimated market size of $90M in revenue in the US market alone. Nanodropper qualified for the Mid-Level Reeler division of Walleye Tank.

Logan Grado and Ian Kitchen, Malleus.

Logan Grado and Ian Kitchen, Malleus.

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities students Logan Grado and Ian Kitchen won first place in the Junior Angler Division with Malleus, a hearing aid technology startup. By 2020 an estimated 45M people will be diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing deficiencies, requiring the use of a hearing aid. However, hearing aids are normally tuned by audiologists in a controlled clinical setting, which can be non-functional in a real-world environment. Consequently, when patients need to have their hearing aid adjusted, they have to return to the audiologist, resulting in a costly and inefficient process. Malleus aims to pair artificial intelligence with Bluetooth capable devices to create more personalized, self-directed hearing fits for patients to reduce the need for excessive hearing aid tuning in a clinical setting.  

James Perreault, UVCanopy.

James Perreault, UVCanopy.

Mayo Clinic Florida researcher and physician team of David Restrepo, Daniel Boczar, Toni Turnbull, and Karim ReFaey won second place in the Junior Angler division with their concept, NeuroCog. Brain surgery patients, the team explained, require frequent pre- and postoperative evaluations of cognitive function, which can be very time and resource consuming. To address this issue, they propose the development of a tablet-based application providing standardized, automatized cognitive testing to complement routine postoperative monitoring of neurosurgery patients. This app would incorporate artificial intelligence-based voice, facial, and text recognition to perform cognitive assessments, targeting the 13.8M neurosurgeries occurring globally each year. 

Also qualifying for the Junior Angler Division of Walleye Tank, and winning the Audience Favorite Award, was Saint Mary’s University Finance Student James Perreault with his concept UVCanopy. UVCanopy is addressing the lack of sanitation on items like wheel chairs and other hospital equipment, primarily targeting nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. The UVCanopy uses germicidal UV-C light to kill bacteria in a tunnel-shaped device. Medical equipment could be pushed through the tunnel for sterilization purposes, additionally eliminating human error involved in the sanitation process and reducing dependency on hazardous sterilization chemicals. UVCanopy proposes to make profits through subscription sales and purchases of replacement parts. The team is currently working with the Saint Mary’s University Science Department to test different light volatility in the disinfection process.  

Sinibaldo Romero, Intelligent Parking Solutions.

Sinibaldo Romero, Intelligent Parking Solutions.

The final team to qualify for the Junior Angler Division of Walleye Tank was the Intelligent Parking Solutions concept, led by Mayo Clinic Post Baccalaureate Fellow Sinibaldo Romero. This concept aims to utilize data analytics to increase parking efficiencies in healthcare organizations. The team proposed using cameras in parking spaces to identify unused spots. The product would leverage machine learning to understand parking patterns for patients and staff to determine more efficient mechanisms for healthcare parking. Parking is a multi-million-dollar industry for healthcare institutions. Missed medical appointments due to lack of parking in the US is documented to cost $150B to healthcare institutions each year.

Student showcase teams were judged by Heather Holmes, Vice President of Marketing at Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc.; Chris Lukenbill, Founder at Fresh Edge; Sunny Prabhakar, Account Strategist at Corporate Web Services, Inc., Jon Ninas, Career Awareness Specialist at Mayo Clinic; Sam Gill, Workforce Development Manager at the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce; and Brady Olson, Human Resources Administrative Assistant at Mayo Clinic. The Walleye Tank Student Qualifying Round was judged by Chris Schad, Director of Business Development for Discovery Square; Joselyn Raymundo, Founder of Rochester Home Infusion; Xavier Frigola, Director of Entrepreneurship at Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc.; and Shuai Li, Lab Manager at Mayo Clinic.

Watch all the Walleye Tank student qualifying round pitches on the YouTube channel. Catch these teams live as they pitch in Walleye Tank tomorrow starting at noon in Rochester. Walleye Tank is a free event that is open to the public.

New Cowork Space Offers Hub for Winona Entrepreneurs

Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

Located just one block from the Mississippi River in Winona, Minn., The Garage Co-Work Space aims to promote and foster entrepreneurship. The coworking facility, Winona’s first, is the fruition of a two-year collaboration among dedicated community members to fuel entrepreneurship and provide a local hub for innovation. 

The Garage Co-Work Executive Director Samantha Strand, far left. Garage Co-Work Owner Eric Mullen, right. Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

The Garage Co-Work Executive Director Samantha Strand, far left. Garage Co-Work Owner Eric Mullen, right. Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

“The Winona Community is and always has been a very entrepreneurial place. One thing it has been lacking is a center for entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial events. This is a key void The Garage can fill,” said Owner Eric Mullen. “The Garage Co-Work Space plans to be a place to host and coordinate these types of things to further connect the community.”

The name of the coworking facility pays homage to the humble beginnings of businesses started in basements or garages, to entrepreneurs who just needed some type of space in which to create. The coworking facility offers a central location for Winona’s entrepreneurs to link up, problem solve together, and allow their businesses to thrive. 

“If you just give people space to think and to dream and to do and to reach out and connect to people, sometimes that’s all they really need,” explained Samantha Strand, Executive Director of The Garage Co-Work Space.

After a ribbon cutting ceremony on November 14th, the coworking facility is officially open to the public. Now, Strand says she’s excited to share the space and help others understand the benefits of coworking in Winona.

The Garage Co-Work has an open space coworking format, with no private offices. The facility also houses two conference rooms, a lounge area, kitchenette, and two private phone booth areas. Desk space can be rented daily, weekly, monthly, or permanently.

The Garage Co-Work is the pinnacle of a two-year brainstorming partnership between many local supporting entities in Winona who wished to create a focal hub for entrepreneurs within the city. Winona State University School of Business, the City of Winona, the Port Authority of Winona, and Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, Strand said, were all instrumental in the ideation and launch of the coworking facility.

In addition to the physical space, The Garage Co-Work will also provide business development programming and networking events to help facilitate local business growth and education. Upcoming events include 1 Million Cups Winona on December 12th and The Garage Co-Work’s first Fireside Chat with the Founder of WinCraft on December 17th.

Strand, a Twin Cities native, was drawn back to the area after completing her bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship at Baylor University. Although she has ideas for starting a business of her own someday, now she’s driven to help others succeed.  

“At the core of what I really love is entrepreneurship and helping other people believe that they can be entrepreneurs…and they can go out and do big things and they can make a difference,” she explained.

Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

Photo courtesy of The Garage Co-Work.

Strand said there’s a definitive energy around entrepreneurship and strong grassroots entrepreneurial movements already occurring in Winona. She thinks, however, that even more innovation activity could be occurring, which the Garage Co-Work Space could help to facilitate.

Even if you don’t consider yourself entrepreneurial, Strand suggests just placing yourself on the mailing list of your local coworking space. You never know when you might benefit or be able to help someone in that extended network.

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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New Childcare Center Hosts Open House Today!

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Stewartville, MN (Wednesday, October 24, 2018) – Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center, LLC, a newly constructed childcare center in Stewartville with capacity for 99 children, will be opening its doors next week. The Center is holding an open house to showcase their progress to the public for the first time on Thursday. The open house details are included here: 

When:  Thursday, October 25, 2018

Time:    4 p.m. - 7 p.m.

Where: 200 Schumann Drive NW, Stewartville, MN

Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center is hosting this open house to help families understand the significant features and services offered by their facility and talented team of caring professionals.  The open house will include tours of the premises and light refreshments. 

“Now that construction is completed, we are ready to start inspiring life-long learning in all of our children,” said owner Krystal Campbell. “We’re excited to welcome the public in to experience how we plan to celebrate and the uniqueness of all of the children we will serve!”

This open house is free to attend and is open to the public.

About Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center, LLC

Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center, LLC is family owned and operated by Krystal and Patrick Campbell.

The center focuses on the provision of a safe, nurturing, and developmentally appropriate environment for children from six weeks to age twelve. An emphasis is placed on the value and uniqueness of each child that is served.

As caregivers and educators, the team at Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center strives to promote each child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. Their programs plant seeds of knowledge in every child to inspire life-long learning.

For more information about Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center, please visit www.sprouts-childcare.com

Where Are They Now? Escape Challenge Rochester

Photo courtesy of Escape Challenge Rochester.

Photo courtesy of Escape Challenge Rochester.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender Communication Differences: What Can We Learn?

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While most of us have observed communication differences between men and women, these discrepancies are also well documented by psychological and scientific research. This article is not meant to separate genders into strict communication buckets. And it’s certainly not meant to encourage readers to change their own behavior. Instead, this piece is meant to open up the dialogue about different communication styles to help us better recognize patterns within ourselves and to enhance our interactions with others in both our personal and professional lives.

Improved communication, or an elevated understanding of divergent communication methods, can help to manage confrontation, aid in conflict resolution, relieve stress and anxiety, build stronger relationships, and meet our needs as humans for social interactions. Strong communication skills can facilitate goal achievement and improve job performance, especially in customer service and management positions.

Research shows that men and women are more likely to exhibit different styles of verbal communication. Men are more prone to adopt what is called “report talk,” while women gravitate more toward “rapport talk.”

“Report” style of communication is driven by the exchange of factual information to solve a given problem. This type of communication is direct and typically does not include any personal anecdotes or stories, with limited emotional connotation. This type of communication is aimed at building relationships based on solving that task at hand. “Report” communication users typically tend to dominate the conversation and speak for longer periods of time than other types of communicators.

“Rapport” communication, on the other hand, is aimed at building relationships and problem solving with the aid of those relationships. This style of communication includes more listening than “report” communication and involves the inclusion of more personal feelings and past experiences to solve tasks. “Rapport” communicators tend to problem solve as they are speaking and are more concerned with everyone equally contributing to the conversation. 

When speaking, women typically utilize a wider range of pitch and tonal variations compared to men, incorporating five tones into their voice versus the three tones expressed by men. This increased variation may underlie the stereotype that women tend to be more emotional speakers than men. 

Non-verbal signals are also important contributors to communication. Similar to divergent verbal communication styles, men and women tend to gravitate toward different methods in this type of communication. 

In general, women tend to condense their bodies into as compact a space as possible. This involves tucking in elbows, crossing legs, and keeping any materials in stacked piles. Women also tend to display more animated facial expressions, smile more, and make more eye contact than men. Men, on the other hand, tend to expand more than women into physical space and normally resume a more relaxed body posture. 

Again, these data are generalized statements and are not meant to convey that all men fit into one type of communication category and all women into another category. This is also not meant to position one style of communication as superior to the other. This discussion, instead, is just meant to describe two very general forms of communication so we can recognize them with the goal to improve our own communication and relationship building skills. 

However, we can all set ourselves up to be better communicators in the workplace if we practice something called executive presence. You don’t have to be a CEO to implement this style of communication. Instead, executive presence just involves exhibiting confidence, communicating clearly and efficiently, and reading an audience or situation effectively. Executive presence includes eliminating behavior like questioning ourselves as we speak, laughing nervously while talking, overly apologizing, storytelling in excess, and being extremely deferential. Instead, executive presence involves listening, talking efficiently to forward the conversation, speaking firmly, and standing/sitting tall.

Highly important to executive presence is a skill set called emotional intelligence (or EI). EI is a concept pioneered in 1990 by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey. This behavior involves high levels of self-awareness, including the ability to perceive, understand, and interpret emotional information.

EI is useful for relationship building; highly effective leaders also typically have elevated levels of EI. 

Overall, neither gender appears to have an advantage over the other in the ability to practice or develop EI. Some studies suggest that women might be slightly better than men at displaying emotional empathy, one aspect of EI.

EI has even been observed in chimps. While in this case, female chimps tended to exhibit higher levels of empathy than males when interacting with other chimps. However, alpha males, the troupe leaders, generally displayed higher levels of empathy than even the females.

Want to learn more about differences in gender communication? Take a dive into the references below and join us tonight for a roundtable discussion at Little Thistle Brewing around this topic.

 

References:

1.     Capita3 materials and verbal communication. 2018.

2.     Kinsey Goman, Carol. “Is Your Communication Style Dictated by Your Gender?” Forbes. N.p., 31 May 2016. Web. 13 Sept. 2018.

3.     Nelson, Audrey. “Gender Communication: It’s Complicated.” Psychology Today. N.p., 24 June 2016. Web. 13 Sept. 2018.

4.     Graham, Debra. “Gender Styles in Communication.” University of Kentucky. 13 Sept. 2018.

5.     Mohindra, Vinita and Samina Azhar. (2012). Gender Communication: A Comparative Analysis of Communicational Appraoches of Men and Women at Workplaces. Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. 2(1), 18-27.

6.     Goleman, Dan. “Are Women More Emotionally Intelligent Than Men?” Psychology Today. N.p., 29 April 2011. Web. 12 Sept. 2018.

7.     Barisco, Justin. “You Need to Learn How to Make Emotions Work for You, Instead of Against You. Here’s the Proof.” Inc. Web. 13 Sept. 2018.

8.     Meshkat, Maryam and Reza Nejati. (2017). Does Emotional Intelligence Depend on Gender? A Study on Undergraduate English Majors of Three Iranian Universities. SAGE Open. July-September. 1-8.

9.     Lipman, Victor. “New Study Shows Women Consistently Outperform Men in Emotional Intelligence.” Forbes. N.p., 11 May 2016. Web. 13 Sept. 2018.

10.  “Gender Issues: Communication Differences in Interpersonal Relationships.” The Ohio State University. Web. 13 Sept. 2018.

Questions with SCORE: Four Simple Marketing Questions for your Business

Today we link up with SCORE Southeast Minnesota to learn more about SCORE and how they can assist in the growth of your business. In the video today, SCORE volunteer Cheryl Thode addresses four questions you should think about as you develop your business marketing plan.

SCORE is the largest organization in the world that helps people start and run businesses through their free consulting services. Find your mentor by clicking the button at the top of the page or by going to directly to the “Find Your Mentor” website: https://www.score.org/find-mentor.