Episode 103: Janessa Nickell and Sacred Circle

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Today on the podcast we sit down with local entrepreneur Janessa Nickell and learn about her brand-new business Sacred Circle. Sacred Circle is a space for people to learn, connect, grow, and understand more about themselves through introspection and reflection. Today on the podcast we talk about:


·       The energy that Janessa sees in Rochester’s entrepreneurial community right now.

·       The need for authenticity and being able to form deeper connections with ourselves and with others.

·       The initial classes and programming offered by Sacred Circle.

·       What the transition from a long-term career to full-time entrepreneurship with Sacred Circle has been like.

·       Janessa’s personal mission with Sacred Circle, which was born to reduce major burnout in her own life and has resulted in a significant shift in her mind set over the past year.


“I’m encouraged to look around and see how people are willing to take risks and are willing to try something different and build something unique.” -Janessa Nickell, founder of Sacred Circle

Episode 102: Thaddeus Medical Systems and Extreme Sandbox

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This week on the podcast we listen in to some audio from the latest 1 Million Cups Rochester. 1 Million Cups is an educational program for entrepreneurs that takes place in 180 different communities across the United States. At the most recent 1 Million Cups Rochester, we heard from Rochester based biotech business Thaddeus Medical Systems and Minnesota based company Extreme Sandbox.

·      Thaddeus Medical Systems is making a smart packaging solution for temperature sensitive products.

o   $35B is wasted in the cold supply chain each year through temperature excursions and lost packages.

o   Currently, only passive tech exists, like gel packs and Styrofoam, to protect temperature sensitive products during shipment.

o   Thaddeus Medical Systems is addressing this problem through their active, reusable, battery powered solution that includes real-time tracking of packages, temperature history profiles, and package content descriptions to increase transparency in the cold supply chain process.

·      Extreme Sandbox is a heavy adventure equipment company that allows adults to play on construction equipment for fun.

o   Extreme Sandbox was launched in 2012 and pitched on the show Shark Tank in 2016.

o   The business has three locations, two in the Twin Cities area and one in northern Texas.

o   Extreme Sandbox utilizes three primary revenue streams: individuals, corporate team building events, and student experiential learning excursions.

Join us at the next 1 Million Cups Rochester on Wednesday November 7th (during Global Entrepreneurship Week) at 9AM in the Bleu Duck Kitchen event space as we hear from local business Busy Baby LLC.

Episode 101: Abbey Sass with Civil Sass Hops


This week on the podcast we check in with Abbey Sass of Civil Sass Hops. Civil Sass Hops is a hops yard on a third-generation family farm in Chatfield, MN, owned by Abbey and her husband Jake Sass. Civil Sass Hops is a woman and veteran owned business. On the show today, we sit down with Abbey and talk about:


·      Her introduction to southeast Minnesota as a Kansas native and the rural tourism she sees taking place now outside of Rochester.

·      How the dichotomy of the name Civil Sass Hops reflects the culture of the business.

·      The history of hops growth in Minnesota.

·      The value of fresh hops in local beers.

·      How hops factor into the beer brewing process.

·      Abbey’s career as an interior designer, designing hotels nationwide.

·      Her husband Jake’s entrepreneurial passion from a young age and how they collaborate as a husband/wife team to run Civil Sass Hops.

·      The importance of open and honest communication in running a business.

·      The next steps for Civil Sass Hops, including an expansion of acreage and increased collaboration efforts, both with new breweries and with markets that might be just a bit unexpected for hops.

Episode 100: Going Back To Where We Started, An Entrepreneurial Roundtable Discussion


Join us this week on the podcast for our 100th show! To celebrate this event, we went back to where we started from in our very first podcast with an entrepreneurial roundtable discussion with local innovators in the community. This week on the podcast we sit down with Chris Lukenbill, Hunter Downs, and Jamie Sundsbak to talk about entrepreneurship in Rochester.


On the podcast today, we discuss:

·      The definition of an entrepreneurial ecosystem and why they are important.

o   We talk about an entrepreneurial ecosystem as the networks that surround entrepreneurs and help to address the needs of those innovators.

o   Also important to an entrepreneurial ecosystem is the will and spirit to be an entrepreneur.

o   And lastly, a community that is supportive of risk taking and trying new things is also essential to an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

·      Major milestones that have occurred in the Rochester entrepreneurial community over the past two years.

o   These milestones include the continued growth of the community and the emergence of events like 1 Million Cups Rochester and Startup Weekend, which can serve as conduits to the entrepreneurial community as a whole.

o   A very recent milestone is the announcement of the Collider Foundation, a nonprofit focused on building the Rochester entrepreneurial ecosystem.

o   Important events also include the continued growth of companies Sonex Health and GoRout, organizations that are capable of having a large presence in Rochester.

o   The emergence of initiatives like Red Wing Ignite and Minnesota Ignite are also imperative with their efforts to build up communities and augment resources.

o   Over the last few years, we’ve also seen an increased number of applications from Olmsted County to the Minnesota Cup business pitch competition.

o   There is also heightened awareness of businesses starting up in this city, including elevated business growth outside of the medtech space.

·      Gaps existing in Rochester’s current entrepreneurial community.

o   We talked about the difficulty of going outside of early stage growth communities to obtain talent for young companies.

o   Location is also important and marketing the importance of that location is essential to building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

·      Observations in other entrepreneurial ecosystems of methods to spur entrepreneurial activity or business development.

o   This includes instances of 100% tax rebates for investments in high tech companies and up to 100% matches on SBIR grants.

o   We also need to make a dedicated investment in talent to spur entrepreneurial activity locally.

·      Activity taking place in the community right now that hints to where our entrepreneurial ecosystem is headed.

o   This includes increased construction activity, which might not be matched with the amount of people and workforce being recruited to the city.

o   We’ve seen an increased sprit of entrepreneurship demonstrated from Mayo Clinic.

o   Rochester experienced an increased number of freelancers with versatile skill sets.

o   We have not seen the emergence of quite as many companies as we might have expected over the past two years.

o   There is also a general lack of incentives in the community to be entrepreneurial and a lack of culture for young people.

·      Events taking place over the next few months in the Rochester entrepreneurial community including:

o   Startup Weekend

o   The Assistive Tech Challenge

o   Global Entrepreneurship Week

o   Walleye Tank

o   The Ag Tech Challenge

Episode 99: Sean Williams and Comicker LLC


Today on the podcast we sit down with founder of Comicker LLC, Sean Williams. Comicker is a diversity focused, digital first, creator friendly comics publisher that Sean operates out of Austin, Minnesota. Sean is a New York Times best-selling comics writer and Montana native who cut his teeth in the LA film scene. Today on the podcast we talk about:


·      The growth and creation of Comicker.

·      The business model behind the publishing company.

·      Trends Sean is seeing today in the comics industry, including expansion of paper comics into library systems.

·      Lessons Sean learned from his first business endeavor Foot in the Door Entertainment, a film and television production company.

·      The pivot Comicker is currently in away from digital and towards print.

·      The difficulties of “operating in isolation” as an entrepreneur.

·      The prep work Sean is currently doing for an exciting new iteration of Comicker.


“I saw how hard it was to basically break in as a creator…. There was no bridge between school and the real world. I wanted to create that opportunity for other creators, in particular.” -Sean Williams, Founder of Comicker LLC

Episode 98: 1 Million Cups Rochester with Fit Box Mobile and SuraMedical


This week on the podcast we listen in to some storytelling at the latest 1 Million Cups Rochester, featuring Minnesota companies Fit Box Mobile and SuraMedical. 1 Million Cups Rochester is an educational event for entrepreneurs that takes place in over 178 different entrepreneurial communities across the United States. The next 1 Million Cups Rochester will be held on Wednesday, October 3rd at 9AM in the Bleu Duck Kitchen Event space.


This week on the podcast we hear from:

·      Shane Levernez, owner of Fit Box LLC, a mobile on demand gym. Fit Box delivers a unique fitness experience in an eight-foot shipping container. The business was originally envisioned as a B2B business but has recently morphed into a pop-up fitness event in partnership with local businesses.

·      CEO of SuraMedical, Marja Engel. SuraMedical is developing a medical device to take the guess work out of caring for chronic leg wounds. Their product contains a remote monitoring system, moisture and pressure sensors, and an activity tracker to challenge the current standard of care.

Episode 97: What Makes a Good Startup City?


Today on the podcast we ask, “What makes a good startup city and how does Rochester rank?” Today on the podcast we talk about:

·      A recent “Best of the Midwest Report” released by the Chicago venture capital firm M25.

o   This report ranks the 54 best tech hubs in the midwest based on measurements in three broad categories including: startup activity, access to resources, and business climate.

o   Chicago ranked first in all three broad categories in this report. Minneapolis ranked second overall. Rochester ranked 53rd out of the top 54 midwestern cities, coming in very last in business climate.

·      We also examine additional ways to examine the strength of a startup community, including a 2015 report from Kauffman Foundation called “Measuring an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.”

o   This report suggests examining three broad categories when assessing strength of an entrepreneurial community including: density, fluidity, connectivity, and diversity.


Which set of measurements do you prefer? How do you think Rochester fares in these categories?

Episode 96: Chris Schad and Discovery Square


Today on the podcast we sit down with Chris Schad, Director of Business Development for Discovery Square. Discovery Square is one of the six Destination Medical Center (DMC) subdistricts and is specifically focused on biomedicine, research, and technology innovation. DMC is the largest public-private economic development initiative in the state of Minnesota to catalyze growth in the Rochester area over the next twenty years.

Today on the podcast we talk about:

·      DMC and the DMC subdistricts.

·      The three current DMC priorities.

·      The dream vision for the Discovery Square DMC subdistrict.

·      How DMC can help entrepreneurs by spreading stories of entrepreneurship on a large scale, identifying gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and bringing programs like the Assistive Tech Challenge to the region to spur prototype development and ideation.

·      The significance of the topping off ceremony at the first new building in the Discovery Square subdistrict, called One Discovery Square.

·      The value proposition for attracting businesses to Rochester.

·      Additional activities in Discovery Square and Rochester as a whole.

·      Challenges that DMC and the city of Rochester face in implementing this large economic initiative in this city.

“The most exciting [challenge] is the challenge of big expectations. The state is watching us. The state has invested a lot of money in what we’re doing here, and we have to rise to the challenge of those expectations.” -Chris Schad, Director of Business Development, Discovery Square

Call for Opinion Pieces and Press Releases: A Guide for Submissions to Rochester Rising

Episode 95: Mackenzie McCormack and Orangetheory Fitness Rochester


This week on the podcast we sit down with Orangetheory Fitness Rochester Owner and Studio Manager Mackenzie McCormack. Orangetheory Fitness is a one-hour total body workout focused on endurance, strength, and power using heartrate-based interval training. The fitness studio is set to open this fall in the Apache Mall. Orangetheory Fitness just opened its 1,000th studio this July.

Today on the podcast we talk about:

·      What you can expect from a session at Orangetheory Fitness.

·      The need Mackenzie saw in Rochester for the fitness studio.

·      What the process of opening an Orangetheory Fitness franchise was like.

·      Mackenzie’s lifelong desire to open her own business.

·      The process of finding real estate for the business in Rochester.

·      The buildout and renovations that were needed in the Apache Mall space.

·      The lessons Mackenzie’s learned over the past year working to open the business.

Episode 94: Andy Smith and Gray Duck Theater

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This week on the podcast we sit down with Andy Smith of Gray Duck Theater. Gray Duck Theater is a micro-cinema set to open in Rochester this October, offering a “mid-level experience of theater and cinema.” Today on the show we talk with this former teacher turned entrepreneur about:

·      His process getting to know Rochester as a new resident of the city.

·      His vision and goals for Gray Duck Theater to create a local cinema that fosters community and conversation around film.

·      Why Andy chose to open Gray Duck in Rochester.

·      What he wants the film-going experience to be like at the theater.

·      The current construction state of the theater.

·      His focus on community support for this new to Rochester business, especially for Gray Duck’s Indiegogo campaign, which just launched this Monday.

This week on the podcast we also check in with SCORE Southeast Minnesota mentor Barm Alsbrook with a quick sound bite about the importance of keeping good financial records.

Episode 93: 1 Million Cups Rochester with OmniTier and Vitals Aware Services

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This week on the podcast we check in with the latest 1 Million Cups Rochester. 1 Million Cups is an educational program for entrepreneurs that takes place in 183 different communities across the United States.  At the latest 1 Million Cups Rochester two different Minnesota-based startups presented: OmniTier and Vitals Aware Services.

·      OmniTier is a software development startup that works to address issues involving big data.

·      Vitals Aware Services is a SaaS product that provides for safe interactions between first responders and vulnerable individuals.

The next 1 Million Cups Rochester will take place Wednesday September 5th at 9AM in the Bleu Duck Kitchen event space.

Episode 92: Discussing Mental Health and Entrepreneurs with Rosei and Chris, Part 2

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This week on the podcast, we wrap up the final part of our discussion talking about mental health and entrepreneurs with Rosei Skipper and Chris Lukenbill. Check back in with Episode 90 to hear the first part of this podcast.

Today on the show we talk about:

·      The stress and anxiety that results from tying your self-worth to your business.

·      Having contingency plans.

·      Why this is the prime time in Rochester to be an entrepreneur.

·      The importance of tying your identity to something outside of your business or career.

·      Methods that we can use as a community to start removing the stigma around mental health in our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

·      The negativity of a culture that glorifies working excessive hours.

·      Moments that have kept us going as entrepreneurs.

·      The idea that when you say “yes” to one opportunity, you by default say “no” to other opportunities.

·      The danger of living at the excessive extremes.

·      Thoughts on the use of technology to facilitate meditation and stress relief.

This week we also check in with SCORE Southeast Minnesota to answer the question, “Does SCORE provide loans or financial capital to small businesses?”

Episode 91: Lynn Bounds and Edge Fitness


This week on the podcast we got to record off-site with one of my favorite business owners in the community, Lynn Bounds Founder of Edge Fitness. Edge Fitness was launched 3.5 years ago in Southwest Rochester as a unique gym experience and continues to evolve in its offerings. Today on the show we talk about:

·      Edge Fitness’ Zumba on the Plaza events taking place this summer.

·      The importance of work/life balance.

·      Lessons Lynn has learned in business and about herself in growing Edge Fitness over the past few years.

·      Lynn’s personal motivation for Edge Fitness to further personal wellness at an affordable level.

·      Being kind to yourself and taking time for self-care.

·      Business resources in the community.

·      The importance of reaching out and asking for help when you need it.

“If you really have a drive for something or a passion for something, you can make it happen. …You need the passion, anything can be learned.” -Lynn Bounds, Founder of Edge Fitness

Episode 90: Discussing Mental Health and Entrepreneurs with Rosei and Chris, Part 1


Today on the podcast we air the first in a two-part conversation about mental health and entrepreneurs with local innovators Rosei Skipper and Chris Lukenbill. On the show today, we talk about:

·      Our own experiences with depression, anxiety, and stress as entrepreneurs.

·      The importance of talking about our experiences with mental illness.

·      Feelings of isolation during entrepreneurship that may help to exacerbate mental health issues.

·      Methods of stress relief.

·      Expectations and managing the ups and downs associated with entrepreneurship.

·      Reasons why entrepreneurs may be more prone to develop mental illness than the general population.

·      What happens when your self-identity becomes deeply rooted to your business.

·      “Skill stacking” and how past experiences help you develop unique abilities, which are not necessarily linked to your business.

·      The fallacy of “finding your passion.”


“Some of the times being self-aware and understanding that part of entrepreneurship, the biggest part of entrepreneurship, is that it’s a constant roller coaster. The ups and downs are just a part of the game. That’s how it always goes. It’s usually a lot of downs and it’s a lot of downs that don’t have immediate successes following. You have to be okay with that. You have to be able to find somebody to talk to.” -Chris Lukenbill

Also on the podcast, we link up with SCORE Southeast Minnesota mentor Brian Alwin to answer the question, “Do I really need a business plan?”.

Episode 89: Mental Illness in Entrepreneurs & SCORE SE MN

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Today we provide a teaser to our next new podcast where we sit down and talk about mental illness and entrepreneurs. Recent data suggests that mental illness rates are higher in entrepreneurs than in the general population; entrepreneurs may also inherently possess traits that make them more likely to develop mental illness than the general population. With the recent deaths of entrepreneurs Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, it’s time we open up this conversation. Be sure to check back in with our next podcast where we sit down with local entrepreneurs to talk about mental illness in our innovation community and how we can all work toward an overall healthier well-being.

In the final part of the podcast, we also check in with SCORE Southeast Minnesota Mentor Stephen Troutman to learn more about SCORE and what it has to offer to the local entrepreneurial community.

Resources mentioned on today’s podcast:

Let’s Open the Conversation About Mental Illness and Entrepreneurs: Part 1, Part 2

NAMI Southeast Minnesota

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

7 Cups of Tea: https://www.7cups.com/

“Shedding The Light on Mental Illness and Entrepreneurship” Foundr

Calm: https://www.calm.com/

Episode 88: New MILE Program to Provide Financial Options for Minnesota Entrepreneurs


This week on the podcast we talk about a new program offering financial assistance for entrepreneurs in MN, called Minnesota Innovation Loans for Entrepreneurs (MILE). This program provides interest free loans between $20K-50K, targeting early stage businesses developing high tech products or services to encourage the growth and sustainability of early stage startups in Minnesota and to increase job creation in the state. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is accepting applications for the MILE program now through 4:30 PM July 16th.

Today on the podcast we talk about:

·      MN DEED’s MILE loan program, targeting early stage startups in aerospace, ag and food processing, biotech, energy efficiency and conservation, information technology, materials science, medical device, pharmaceuticals, process control, and telecommunications.

o   Apply and find out more about the scoring criteria for the MILE loan program by clicking here.

·      SBIR (Small business innovation research)/STTR (Small business technology transfer) grants, which qualify as a 1:1 financial match required for a MILE loan.

o   SBIR/STTRs are NIH programs to facilitate the commercialization of research. These grants are one of the largest sources of early stage financing for early stage life science companies.

o   Find out more about SBIR/STTR programs by clicking here.

·      MN-SBIR, a program that provides free, confidential assistance to early stage startups, specifically to prepare the startups to submit SBIR/STTR applications.

o   Pat Dillon from MN-SBIR will be in Rochester next on June 22nd.  Schedule time to meet with Pat by emailing her at: Pdillon@mhta.org

·      For more detailed information on our criteria for press releases and opinion piece submissions, click here.

Episode 87: 1 Million Cups Rochester with Technovation[MN], the Assistive Arc Challenge, and Spanish and Go


This week on the podcast we check in with the latest 1 Million Cups Rochester. 1 Million Cups is an educational program for entrepreneurs that takes place in 180 different communities across the United States. Here are the startups and local groups that spoke to the community at the June 1 Million Cups Rochester:

·      Technovation[MN], a program in southeast Minnesota. This global challenge encourages middle school and high school aged girls to pursue careers in technology and computing. The Technovation program was brought to the local region in 2014.

·      The Arc Assistive Technology Challenge, a fall tech program supported by Arc Minnesota, Destination Medication Center, and Mayo Clinic. This challenge works to create and support solutions for disabled individuals in southeast Minnesota and will culminate on November 3rd.

·      Spanish and Go, a resource for learning real world, travel Spanish. Spanish and Go blends together co-founder Jim Fricker’s passion for audio technology with his wife, and also co-founder, May’s love for teaching. Currently, Spanish and Go is working to launch their first product, Travel Spanish Confidence. The business has over 10,000 followers on their YouTube channel.   

1 Million Cups Rochester takes place the first Wednesday of every month at 9AM in the Bleu Duck Kitchen event space.

Episode 86: Meet the Team behind SolKen Technology

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This week on the podcast we sit down with Solomon Antoine, Ken Nguyen, D’Angelo Tines, and Haron Arama of SolKen Technology. SolKen Technology is a Rochester-based tech startup specializing in cryptocurrency mentoring, web development, and e-commerce development. Their current focus is on the product FAVR, a web-based platform that matches freelancers with jobs, such as yard work and errand-running, in the community.

This week on the podcast we talk about:

·      FAVR, a platform that pairs freelancers with local demand and the SolKen team’s plans to grow the product.

·      The drive and rationale for creating FAVR.

·      How the team balances their education as high school and college students and their other activities with business development.

·      The journey of building FAVR in Rochester and the connections the team has leveraged to jump start the product.

·      Their advice for anyone else looking to #startsomething in Rochester, Minnesota.


“Take risks. You never know the outcome until you try it out.” -Ken Nguyen

Episode 85: The Ladies Behind The Commission


This week on the podcast we sit down with Grace Pesch and Crystal Heim, ladies on the Executive Board of The Commission, a young professionals group in Rochester, Minnesota. This week on the podcast we talk about:

·      Events and initiatives going on the community that Grace and Crystal are excited about, including new ownership of Canvas & Chardonnay and The Commission’s Salute to the 4th celebration.

·      Their work to develop and launch women-focused events in the community, including monthly women’s happy hours and their first roundtable discussion, which will take place on June 12th.

To learn more about these events and other initiatives and networking opportunities from The Commission, check out their Facebook page.

“I want to meet more awesome women because I feel like when I go out to networking events or I want to get engaged with other business and entrepreneurial people, I find myself meeting a lot of men. …But I also want to see a lot more women out there.” -Grace Pesch

Episode 84: Rochester Rising's Spring Sustaining Membership Drive


This week on the podcast we talk about the Rochester Rising Spring Membership Drive to help make this platform a sustainable part of the Rochester entrepreneurial community. Rochester Rising was launched in July 2016 to fill a real gap in this city and to amplify the stories of our entrepreneurs. Since that time, we’ve told the stories of over 134 unique startups and entrepreneurs to give a face and voice to this city’s entrepreneurial culture. Sustaining memberships help to keep Rochester Rising running and reduce our dependency on advertising and sponsorship. Plus, you get some cool rewards from becoming a sustaining member and know that you’re helping to grow our entrepreneurs, grassroots-style.

Today on the podcast we talk about:

·      The basics of Rochester Rising and what we’ve accomplished in the almost 2 years since the inception of this business.

·      How the crowdfunding campaign Patreon works and what you get for using it.

·      Why you should care.

·      How to become a sustaining member.


To become a sustaining member, just click here to get started. Not ready to become a sustaining member? Think about giving a one-time donation to help amplify the stories of our entrepreneurs.