By All Means

Twin Cities Business

Innovation. Drive. Purpose. Conversations with the enterprising entrepreneurs and leaders behind beloved and up and coming brands.

All Episodes

“Is there a better way to find safer and more effective medicine?” That’s the question Ping Yeh pondered as he fought his way back from the brink of death in 2012. Having survived a chemotherapy cocktail so intense that doctors worried it could destroy his heart, he found himself wondering: with all the technology available, why do we still use the patient as the guinea pig? Pursuing an answer led to the 2014 formation of StemoniX, a biotech company that makes microOrgans used for drug discovery. Says Yeh, “Instead of waiting 8-10 years to see how humans respond (to a new drug), let’s just do it now.” In March 2021, StemoniX joined forces with Cancer Genetics Inc., a New Jersey-based drug discovery leader, and together the two formed Vyant Bio (VYNT on the Nasdaq). The new biotech business has offices around the world including Pennsylvania, California, Australia, and Germany, with StemoniX operating as a wholly owned subsidiary based in Maple Grove, Minn. StemoniX microOrgans are now used to test treatments for Rett Syndrome, a rare form of autism. “In the grand history of biology, you have a hand in creating a new way of doing things,” Yeh says. He talks about the process of building a biotech business—out of his basement and into the Johnson & Johnson JLabs science incubator. He credits the lean startup method with helping him and his partner to create a product that was not only scientifically advanced, but a market fit. Almost as challenging as creating “mini brains” in petri dishes, “we had to figure out how to make them at scale, and ship them all over the world.” The recent merger allowed Yeh to move away from the business side of StemoniX to focus on innovation. He shares two keys to innovative thinking: 1. Be careful of the beliefs that you have. They are these invisible bars and walls that might hold you back. 2. It’s definitely over if you choose to quit. If you don’t, and every day you wake up and say we’re going to figure it out and do our’ll figure it out. For more takeaways from Yeh’s story, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. Associate professor John McVea encourages entrepreneurs to approach the problems they hope to solve from a human perspective. “Often people start out asking: what do I have to do to become a successful entrepreneur,” McVea says. “What this story reminds us is that a much better question is: how should I be to become a successful entrepreneur.” He points out the a fundamental tenet of lean startup: the answer is not in the room. “It’s staying in constant contact with all sorts of people…constantly networking with people who are open to new ideas and thinking about how to create something that solves something for humans. Carry yourself in a way that makes you open to entrepreneurship.”

Oct 27

1 hr 7 min

The pandemic called into question everything that made coworking desirable: shared work areas, in-person networking. But industry pioneer Don Ball has seen work culture trends cycle more than once before. And indeed, demand for flexible workspaces is already swinging back. “Hybrid work opens an opportunity for coworking—it’s a professional office that’s not your home, and not your [company] HQ. If you have one close to where you live, I think what we’re going to see is suburban coworking…do really well.” The opportunity in 2021 is not unlike what inspired Ball to get into coworking more than a decade ago. A career freelancer, Ball recalls “going stir crazy” working by himself at home in the mid-1990s. He rented an office, just to get out of the house and remembers thinking: “What if I invited others to join me? It seemed like a goofy idea at the time.” Laptop computers and high-speed internet made it more feasible. In 2010, Ball and partner Kyle Coolbroth got a good deal on a vacant space in the Lowertown area of downtown St. Paul. They resisted turning it into separate office suites—the two weren’t interested in becoming landlords; they wanted to create a community for software engineers, freelancers, and business founders to connect and share ideas. So they invested in some Ikea furniture and opened CoCo, the Twin Cities’ first modern-day coworking community. Soon after, then-Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak convinced them to open a second CoCo in the Grain Exchange Building. “There was a hunger for people to see what happening” in the startup community, Ball says. CoCo’s expansive space in the middle of downtown Minneapolis became that symbol of innovation. “It was the first time you could walk into one space see that it’s happening here.” But while Coco became a local success story, WeWork, which launched the same year, became an international sensation—right up until its failed IPO. Ball talks about doing business in WeWork’s shadow. “It was fantasy fueled by funny money. That was obvious to all of us in the business from day one,” Ball says. “They were acting like [real estate] was a software platform—like they could absorb all the costs of onboarding, and it would someday make money. It created downward price pressure…coworking as a business itself is okay, but it’s not great. It’s not going to make anyone rich. We were always looking for a twist.” In 2018, Ball and Coolbroth teamed up with Fueled Collective and set about franchising their coworking communities and turning them into modern conference centers that would keep the spaces activated beyond 9 to 5. Ball stepped away from day-to-day operations in 2019. He sits on the board of Fueled Collective, which downsized during the pandemic and now operates two Minneapolis spaces. There’s a third in Cincinnati. Today, Ball is back to freelancing, including a project related to regenerative agriculture, which isn’t as far afield as it sounds: the concept is to create shared growing space for crops and production space for small food producers. Coworking, for the ag industry. For more perspective on work culture, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business where adjunct faculty member Rod Hagedorn teaches management. “Instead of trying to second guess where everything is headed, we should think in terms of drivers of change," Hagedorn says. "The pandemic taught all of us about the need for agility in terms of business operations.” And with a disruption in office work comes the opportunity to consider which activities are best done in person: “innovation, creative problem solving—two areas critical for our economy and even our national security. The best way to come up with innovative solutions is still the old-fashioned way: in the office, with colleagues. We need people around us to be able to sense what someone is feeling and see reactions that you can’t get on Zoom.”

Sep 8

59 min 21 sec

In March of 2020, as the U.S. shut down offices and clinics to guard against Covid-19, the telehealth platform Zipnosis saw an unbelievable spike in traffic, from around 1,800 visits a week to 65,000. Founder Jon Pearce had been preaching for more than a decade that the smartphone was the medical clinic of the future, but it took a global pandemic for the industry to make significant change. In April of 2021, Zipnosis sold to another Minnesota-based startup, Bright Health, a giant among new health insurance companies that has raised more than $1 billion since 2016. Pearce and his team joined Bright Health Group and continue to work on transforming patient and provider connections. So it may surprise people to hear that Pearce believes telehealth as we know it is dying. “The best analogy is the difference between Blockbuster and Netflix,” Pearce says. “Remotely getting care from a doctor is the same thing as renting a movie from Blockbuster. That business model is dying—you’ve got negative unit economics. What’s coming is Amazon care, Walmart. The tech itself is commoditized and integrated into a digitally enabled business. You will have more choice. The option to get care when you want it, how you want it, at the price you want is going to be the most radical transformation.” Of course, it takes grand vision, tenacity and sacrifice to pursue such radical transformation, and Pearce also talks about the darker side of entrepreneurship, which he says factored into the collapse of his first marriage and struggles with mental health. “We have unfortunately created this myth around entrepreneurship. There’s a destructive cycle that comes from unwieldy expectations of financial returns,” Pearce says. “We need to reframe role of entrepreneurship. To say, my job is to help change the world, take ideas and put them into action. To be effective, I need to set boundaries, delegate, find other people. When I go back to do the next thing, I’m going to start with the thesis that my vision is big and I’m going to build and find best people to help me do that. I’m not going to work 120 hour weeks. It’s not sustainable for me, and it’s not even good for the business.” Pearce says he’d also be reluctant to take venture capital on his next venture, particularly early in its development. “I’ve become a lot more old school. Build a profitable business with customers who pay you.” Following our conversation with Pearce, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business where Daniel McLaughlin is a senior executive fellow whose research focuses on making health care work more effectively. “it’s an exciting time for health care—the pandemic accelerated technology rapidly,” McLaughlin says. Beyond telehealth, he sees digital therapeutics on the horizon—“devices we’ll have in our homes or wear on our bodies—personal AI systems for much better, more customized health care.”

Aug 18

55 min 24 sec

“When you bring someone to tears by describing what you do, that seems viable.” Michael Mader and Sam Harper started their sock business, Hippy Feet, with a mission: to support young people experiencing homelessness. Inspired by brands like TOMS and Love Your Melon, they launched in 2016 with a one-for-one model, a pair of socks donated to someone in need for every pair sold. But the business, a certified B-corp, really began to gel when they integrated the mission into making their product. “We were going into shelters, donating socks, and we started to see familiar faces,” Harper says. “We told customers we would do this great thing by donating socks, and we did, but we were seeing the same people. People were still homeless. It felt hollow.” Adds Mader, “[Socks] address a symptom of homelessness, but by just treating the symptom, you’re not doing anything to resolve the issue itself… We realized that simply donating a pair of socks was strong marketing, but it wasn’t a strong impact. We wanted to have a strong impact.” In 2018, Hippy Feet piloted a Pop Up Employment program, bringing socks to shelters and paying those interested in hourly work to package product. By 2019, Hippy Feet dispensed with the one-for-one model to focus on employing homeless youths. “A job moves you along the pathway to self-sufficiency,” Mader says. But in March of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic brought Hippy Feet’s Pop Up Employment program to a halt, along with sales. Mader says the company was within weeks of bankruptcy when a new plan came together that puts Hippy Feet in a better position for long term success. “The pandemic caused us to solve the issue of scale around employment,” Haper says. Hippy Feet now offers short term, part time contracts to those in need of a job—just enough to get them on their feet, with confidence and connections to plan their next move. They’re working on partnerships that would lead Hippy Feet workers to future opportunities. And they’re thinking about ways to replicate the Minneapolis employment program in other cities. As Hippy Feet hit its stride on mission, sales followed. “When we got our values dialed in, it allowed us to share our values with consumer in a way that was much more digestible,” Mader says. The company improved its digital marketing and e-commerce experience to grow direct-to-consumer sales. What this process has taught the founders about the one-for-one model: “There are much deeper ways to give,” Harper says. He encourages brands considering this approach to ask themselves, “Are you actually meeting a real need? Many times, you’re better off giving money—empowering a community, giving agency to whomever you’re trying to help.” “We’ve been able to bake mission into our core business,” Mader adds. “We never have to ask ourselves, do we want to donate an inferior product to save money, or delay a donation. If you’re holding a pair of Hippy Feet socks, it’s gone through the hands of young person experiencing homelessness. It’s a more authentic, deeper way of giving.” Then we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business where David Alexander is an associate marketing professor. While he appreciates the Hippy Feet mission, Alexander says the founders could have crafted their business plan more efficiently. “Hippy Feet tried to create an opportunity. What we want, from a brand perspective, is people who buy into your commitment. Do the research to figure out who is going to support you and then change your dream to satisfy the opportunity.”

Aug 4

54 min 8 sec

Serial entrepreneur Houston White’s business endeavors include barber shop, apparel collection that has been featured by Target and JCPenney, a coffee cafe and product brand, and housing development. But he’s building something bigger than all of that combined. He’s building community. “Culture plus capacity,” was White’s pitch to U.S. Bank, which invested in his vision. “It’s my belief that in Black communities, the smallest institutions have the greatest impact…church, barbershop. Typically, folks start big and trickle down. In community development, you’ve got to start small and level up. Let’s start with things we can do.” What White wants to do is build a neighborhood where Black culture and Black owned businesses thrive. White’s Camdentown, as he calls the Weber-Camden area of North Minneapolis, is a place where people of all backgrounds can shop, meet for coffee, get a haircut, and live—together, at various income levels. They key, he says: it has to be fueled by Black entrepreneurs. “I believe that Black Minnesota’s been held back because we have not unleashed human potential,” White says. “Entrepreneurs are the one missing link.” White’s Get Down Coffee Co. will open in the fall of 2021 adjacent to White’s barbershop and store, all in a predominantly Black part of town that has lacked the sort of resources and attractions to draw visitors. Phase two of White’s expansion includes a 12-unit market rate apartment building next door. “I am a firm believer that we can’t concentrate poverty,” White says. “You need mix of incomes, race, and it has to be Black led in order to really move community forward. If we want better schools, we need to create a mix of incomes.” The vision struck White earlier In his career. “I had done what I hoped I’d never do: get successful and leave my community. I was become a wealthy Black man and my giveback was money. I spent no time in the inner city. I realized I had no connection to a village like it was growing up for me in Mississippi. I had to figure out how to grow as an entrepreneur and maintain connection to my tribe.” White was entrepreneurial from his days biking the neighborhood giving haircuts. Spending summers in Mississippi and the school year in Minneapolis was a “cultural collision” that White says gave him a broader perspective on race and meant he ‘didn’t grow up with an inferiority complex.” Today, he fields calls from the governor of Minnesota and the CEO of Target. And as White scales his own business, he’s plotting out the opportunity to create a local legacy much bigger than himself. “It’s going to take a radical shift in way people think about what Black people need, and it’s much more than a job.” After our conversation with White, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. Associate Dean Laura Dunham shares White’s believe in the importance of entrepreneurship as a tool to build both wealth and community. “Small businesses play an important role in upward mobility,” Dunham says. “Business owners have much higher levels of wealth.” Challenging economic times often lead to business formation and Dunham notes a spike during the Covid-19 pandemic of Black-led startups. But disparities in funding for Black entrepreneurs persist. “Give people a bit of bandwidth and capital,” Dunham says. “They have the insight, experience and knowledge to see needs to be filled.”

Jul 21

1 hr 2 min

Manolo Blahnik. Jimmy Choo. Christian Louboutin. Marion Parke. It takes moxie, clear vision, and a major investment to launch a luxury footwear brand with no experience in the field. But Marion Parke has something those other designers don’t: a medical degree. As a podiatric surgeon, Parke, who counts First Lady Jill Biden as a fan of her collection, spent a lot of time thinking about shoes. “Every patient consultation led to talking about shoes,” she recalls, “because everyone is there for a foot problem.” That’s when inspiration struck the Oklahoma native: her knowledge of the foot and biomechanics, combined with her love of fashion helped her see the opportunity to create a luxury footwear brand that delivers on both style and comfort. “The novel concept was doing it in an elevated and tasteful way—that didn’t scream you’re wearing a shoe that’s designed by a doctor.” She launched in 2015 and Bloomingdale’s became the brand’s first major retailer. Parke learned the business through trial and error: pattern making, production, wholesaling, e-commerce, branding. Heading into 2020, Marion Parke shoes were sold through nearly 50 boutiques and stores including fashion sites like Shop Bop. But the Covid-19 pandemic caused a major disruption—not only in distribution, but in shopping habits. Suddenly, in early 2020, no one needed heels. Marion Parke made the decision to skip an entire season of heels and stilettos, instead broadening the collection to include flats, sandals and wedges for the first time. “Covid fast-tracked that for us,” says Parke, a mother of three who suddenly found herself trying to save her brand while homeschooling her young children. “We had to think about what women’s activities were like.” Now with the backing of investors who are experienced in the shoe industry as the owners of Minnetonka Moccasin, Marion Parke brought on its first CEO in late 2020 to “professionalize the business.” The move allows Parke to focus on what she loves most: design. “In fashion you’re expected to see the future, to know what women want a year before they want it. The stakes have never been higher,” Parke says. I believe that our relationship with clothing has changed. Women have gotten comfortable, and they want something more functional, more wearable. I believe women aren’t going to want to go back to the traditional high heel….we want to show that we’re here to support women, so that you’re not distracted by shoes at the most important moments in your life.” Following our conversation with Parke, we go back to the classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Marketing professor Steve Vuolo explains the four key components to clarity of positioning that help a brand gain traction. Clarity: “Clarity is the art of sacrifice. You’re not going to be relevant to some in order to be really important to others.” Target: “Know who you’re marketing to.” Frame of reference: “Understand the arena in which your product is competing.” Market differentiation: “What reason do consumers have to believe your claim? In Marion Parke’s case, being a doctor gives her instant credibility. Plus, her shoes being manufactured in Italy adds believability.” "It's amazing how many entrepreneurs don't take the time to write these things out," Vuolo says. "Think about the persona of your brand."

Jul 7

1 hr 10 min

Before the boutique fitness craze that landed spinning studios and bootcamp gyms on every corner, there was Steele Fitness, a team of personal trainers who would show up at your home in a BMW and provide one-on-one fitness training. Behind the VIP service was an ambitious entrepreneur named Steele Smiley, whose first exercise in creating a brand was remaking himself into the businessman he wanted to be. “In 2000, I said: I need to become a different person in order to manifest my life,” Smiley says. “You have to play the part.” Since selling Steele Fitness to the private equity firm that owned global chain Snap Fitness, Smiley moved into the business of healthy eating. First came salad chain Crisp & Green, and in April 2021, he launched his newest venture, a fast casual plant-based burger shop called Stalk & Spade. “Plant-based eating is the future,” Smiley says. The first Stalk & Spade opened in Wayzata, Minn., where all of Smiley’s businesses have launched. But he’s thinking big. “Ultimately, our goal is to be the fastest growing restaurant chain in American history,” Smiley says. He plans to grow Stalk & Spade through franchising, just as he’s done with Crisp & Green, which will soon surpass 60 locations in eight states. But Crisp & Green didn’t take off until the pandemic, thanks to Smiley’s early investment in digital ordering technology, which made it easy to pivot to online purchases when in-store dining shut down in March of 2020. Before Covid-19, 7 percent of customers used the app. Now, Smiley says, more than 60 percent of Crisp & Green orders come through the app. Online orders are holding steady even as dining in returns Smiley talks about his approach to building companies, and the challenges and opportunities of working ahead of lifestyle trends. “Ultimately you’re only as successful as your ability to listen to your inner voice,” he says. “The times when I’ve made wrong decisions, I haven’t listened to it.” Following our conversation with Smiley, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. Associate Professor Mark Spriggs offers franchising advice. “A franchise system is all about replicating the corporate model. The founder has to create a reliable business model that can be learned and operated quickly by a franchisee.” The question for Stalk & Spade, he says, is, “will this concept travel…without Steele?”

Jun 23

1 hr 12 min

Seena Hodges is that person everyone calls when they want to learn about racism and equity building. When they want to get woke. “I always love having the conversation, helping people unpack the things they don’t see, I just don’t want to do it for free.” Hodges parlayed her background in nonprofit, social justice, marketing and theater work into The Woke Coach, a Minneapolis-based agency that offers programs for businesses and individuals designed to help them understand bias and become antiracist. Launched in 2018, demand for The Woke Coach’s services skyrocketed following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. “Once you start to see and witness, injustice you can’t unsee it. And it’s absolutely everywhere,” Hodges says. “At this point there’s really no denying that we have to have these conversations. We have a moral imperative to put our best foot forward.” Hodges shares the personal journey that led her to the work, and the challenge of a job she can’t ever leave at the office. “While I do this work—the work of creating equitable environments—for a living, I’m always impacted by what’s happening in the world, when someone is murdered, when someone puts it on Facebook,” Hodges says. “Sometimes white folks can put their own desire for learning ahead of the feelings of other people. I want to encourage people to have more grace around their process even when they’re seeking to learn. It’s been hundreds of years that we’ve lived with inequity and the circumstance of blatant racism, and it’s going to take us some time to get out of here.” The key to lasting change, Hodges says, is self-awareness. “We talk about leaders being strong, visionary, empathetic. What we’ve never said is a leader has to be antiracist. You don’t learn that in business school. It’s something you have to really internalize.” Becoming antiracist means being fearless. “We can’t focus on the why we can’t,” Hodges says. “We have to focus on the how we can. There’s always something any one person can do.” For more perspective on how business can play a role in shifting broader conversations about race, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business where Nakeisha Lewis serves as associate dean of undergraduate and accelerated master’s programs. She quotes a survey that found 75 percent of professionals say their company has enhanced its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts this part year, but only 19 percent rate those efforts as effective. "The real conversation is not just, can we have more conversations, but are those conversations leading to change." Action, she says, must involve building pipelines to support advancement of BIPOC employees, and more educational opportunities. “The business setting is an excellent place to start…to make the future of business more unapologetically equitable and inclusive.”

Jun 9

54 min 18 sec

Special education teacher Angie Gallus made dog treats in class with her students as a way to help them learn job skills. They would bake, package, and sell to friends and family. When Angie reunited with a couple of former students who hadn’t been able to find jobs after graduation, she and her husband Kyle, also a special ed teacher, decided to fire up the oven again. The combination of producing treats that dogs love and creating jobs for individuals with disabilities made the Galluses realize: “There’s something bigger here.” On the spot, a company was born. They named it Finely’s after their own pocket shepherd. Brand motto: “Treat with kindness.” That was 2016. For the first two years, they worked nights and weekends with their former students, and sold the treats at farmer’s markets, breweries, and online. Then came their viral accelerator: Ashton Kutcher heard about Finley’s commitment to being an inclusive employer. His A Plus news site published a story, which the actor/entrepreneur shared on his own social media, and the orders poured in. It prompted the Galluses to professionalize their packaging and step up manufacturing, paving the way for partnerships with regional grocers and pet specialty stores. Toward the end of 2019, after three years of bootstrapping the brand, they raised a $650,000 seed round through friends and angels—many of whom the Galluses say have children with disabilities and deeply appreciated the brand’s mission. They were poised to begin 2020 with a launch in the Pacific Northwest. But before the product could reach shelves, stores shut down due to the Covid-19 outbreak in Seattle. Flush with product, Finley’s pivoted to online, launching on and then They also sell through Amazon. The pandemic turned out to be a great time to scale a dog treat brand. U.S. pet industry sales exceeded $100 billion for the first time ever in 2020 with pet food and treat sales leading the pack at $42 billion, according to the American Pet Products Association. That wasn’t Finely’s only lucky break. With the capital they raised months before the pandemic, Finley’s had launched a line of trainer bites, just 3 calories each. “We had no idea all of these dogs were going to get adopted, and then spend time with you on Zoom,” Kyle says. “The No. 1 thing people wanted was the dog off their laps and something to keep them happy.” Finley’s trainer bites outperformed the original biscuits last year in what Kyle describes as an “inferno of opportunity.” Having proven itself online, Finley’s is prepping for major store growth in 2021 including select Target and Safeway/Albertsons stores. The grocer is supporting Finley's mission of inclusivity by waiving slotting fees that most brands pay to get on shelves. In addition to hiring people with special needs, Finley’s added profit sharing to support the organizations that support its employees. “You can employ people with disabilities, but there are so many other barriers: transportation, job coaching. We want to give back to that as well.” Angie’s advice to other employers that strive to be more inclusive: “Make sure you’re actually asking employees what they need.” Often, what they need is the opportunity. “Sometimes you can’t see potential until you give someone a chance.” The Finley’s story made Associate Professor John McVea think about the value of work. In Back to the Classroom with University of St. Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, McVea points out that there’s much to learn about work from a group that is often excluded from doing it. “There’s this old idea that we work to earn and leisure is an escape from the drudgery.” A more modern take, says McVea, is careers of conviction: “We work for purpose and leisure is time to reflect. For people who are excluded, they don’t have the opportunity to continuously learn. Work is not just busy stuff, not just about making money. The actual act, the process of work transforms us.”

May 27

1 hr 2 min

Dr. Jeremy Friese left a prestigious medical practice at Mayo Clinic to solve one of healthcare’s great headaches: the prior authorization process. Three years later, in December 2020, he sold his venture-backed AI technology company Verata Health to its biggest competitor, Olive, for $120 million. He brought almost the entire Verata team of around 60 with him, and took on the role of president of Olive’s Payer Market. His work to automate the administrative side of health care services continues, now with a much larger team. He’s yet to meet any of them in person or visit Olive’s Ohio headquarters. The entire acquisition transpired virtually during the Covid-19 pandemic. Verata, which was a “Zoom company” with employees spread around the country even pre-Covid, saw the adoption of its software services accelerate during the pandemic. “One of the positives [out of this time] is the way our healthcare system has embraced a new way of working—the adoption of tele-health and a variety of other technologies. There’s a newfound appetite and willingness to bring in tech to solve problems.” Although he spent nearly 20 years in radiology at Mayo Clinic, Friese initially chose medical school with the goal of “solving systemic problems.” His first exposure to the stresses of health care came as a high school sophomore in South Dakota, when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. “So much time and angst is wasted sharing information among physicians and with payers,” Friese says. “It causes delays and uncertainty in care, and it hasn’t gotten a whole lot better in the last 20-30 years.” “Helping the system get better through capitalism is something I’m wired to do.” But along the way, Friese got drawn into patient care and became an internationally recognized doctor. All the while, he took on executive roles on the business side at Mayo and earned an MBA at Harvard. With patient paperwork piling up on his desk and keeping him out of the exam room, he decided to finally take the leap and step away from practice—and his doctor’s salary— to start Verata. “To be an entrepreneur, you have to be a little crazy,” Friese acknowledges. “But I did know that it was a massive problem that would have a massive impact.” Following our conversation with Friese, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business where Daniel McLaughlin is a senior executive fellow whose research focuses on making healthcare work more effectively. McLaughlin sheds some light on the complexities of the prior authorization process. “Throughout the country there’s been a problem of over treatment or ineffective care.” Both ends of the spectrum add up to billions in waste, he says. “Insurance companies don’t want to pay for either so they set up a complicated system. There’s a real opportunity to use emerging tech tools to make the process easier and cheaper.” The number of medical doctors seeking MBAs, particularly in St. Thomas’s health care business program, continues to grow, McLaughlin says. “There’s an increasing number of physicians who are so frustrated in practice, they want to figure out how to fix the healthcare system.”

May 12

55 min 37 sec

Having reached her ultimate career goal before age 30—New York Times best-selling author; staff writer for ESPN—Maria Burns Ortiz turned her attention to a new challenge: promoting equitable education. She’s the co-founder of 7 Generation Games, a mission-based ed-tech startup focused on closing the math gap for students from Native American, Latino, and underserved and rural communities. She started the company with her mom, Anna Maria De Mars, World Judo Champion turned educational psychology professor. Since her days as an eighth grade math teacher, De Mars wanted to make video games to teach kids math, but at the time, the technology didn’t exist. With Burns Ortiz’s career at a crossroads, her mom convinced her to take the money she would have spent on an MBA and invest it in starting a business. Eight years later (five, full-time), 7 Generation Games counts more than 40,000 active uses in schools and homes across the country. The company recently received $1 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Growing Math, a new learning platform aimed at helping meet the needs of students and educators in Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, and South Dakota. “There’s a disconnect between what software companies think teachers need, and what they actually use,” says Burns Ortiz, who runs the company from Minneapolis with a team of 11 spread around the country. Although 7 Generation was focused on rural and underserved urban communities pre-pandemic, distance learning has heightened the awareness that “the digital divide is a lot greater than we thought.” When schools closed in early 2020 due to Covid-19, 7 Generation lifted its paywall to get software to teachers. But in some of the communities it serves, nearly half the students don’t have Internet at home. “No one can learn from software they can’t use,” Burns Ortiz says. In the past year, 7 Generation more than doubled its offline game usage, from 40 to 85 percent of its collection. “Making something that seems high tech run on something low tech is really hard,” Burns Ortiz says. “Maybe it’s not the coolest, 3D virtual world, but it runs on a phone.” Despite early difficulties convincing investors, Burns Ortiz and her mom felt strongly about setting up 7 Generation as a for-profit company. “Social impact is not a charity,” Burns Ortiz says. “You can make a positive societal impact and also have that be a profitable enterprise. When it’s non-profit, often that doesn’t encourage people to go in and innovate on solutions.” Her goal now? “I want 7 Generation to be as ubiquitous in the classroom as text books.” After our conversation with Burns Ortiz, we go back to the classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, where Kevin Henderson is a professor of management with a focus on universal design for learning. “We want to give everyone in the classroom an equal opportunity to succeed.” That starts with material that feels relevant to a wide variety of cultures and communities. “It’s so important for students to see themselves represented in curriculum.”

Apr 28

58 min 3 sec

Bizzy Coffee isn’t like most other coffee brands. No coffee shops. No single serve bottles or cans or pods. Bizzy founders Alex French and Andrew Healy are singularly focused on a fast-growing segment of the coffee industry: cold brew. And by staying laser focused, they’ve become the best-selling cold brew brand on Amazon. Meanwhile, their grocery store presence is steadily growing. The momentum they have today is proof that picking a lane can pay off. Determination and a willingness to learning from failures can help. And caffeine is essential. A born entrepreneur, French studied entrepreneurship and finance at the University of St. Thomas and tried as many as 20 different startup ideas before landing on Bizzy with his friend Healy. One of those early attempts was a snowboarding accessory called the Lifty. Its failure to take off gave them a key insight: “no one was searching for it.” So French and Healy studied Google search trends to identify a consumable product people were actively looking for. At the time, the two recent college grads were making their own cold brew coffee at home to save money and it didn’t taste as smooth and sweet as the cold brew from their local coffee house. Both had serious day jobs—French was working in consumer research at General Mills; Healy in research and development engineering for St. Jude Medical. Pooling their knowledge, evenings were devoted to creating a better testing cold brew coffee for home brewers. According to Google, searches for cold brew were growing 100 percent annually. “We just didn’t fully understand how challenging coffee was going to be,” French says. “But we wanted to create a new product for a new consumer entering the coffee category for the first time who doesn’t want to drink Folgers and wants a brand that resonates with their own personal belief system.” Knowing that they were their own target market, French and Healy studied their shopping and consumption patterns. “And so we said to ourselves, let’s go sell something on the internet for the next generation of shopping.” French shares many hard-learned lessons, like a product that sells well on the Internet does not easily translate to stores. The competition for shelf space is tough, and the wrong placement can ruin your odds. And creating a product with the intention of competing with the category leader only works if you can demonstrate that yours is a better value. Mistakes are part of the journey, French says. “You only learn to be an entrepreneur by being an entrepreneur. You will fail, but the faster you fail, the faster you’ll succeed.” For more perspective on the entrepreneurial journey, we go back the classroom with the University of St. Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship where John McVea is an associate professor. “Anybody can say, ‘I like cold coffee.’ What Alex had to do was look at the world the way the market is, the way people are drinking coffee, and say, ‘how could we do that differently?’” Aspiring entrepreneurs often get too hung up on coming up with an original idea, McVea says. “You don’t succeed because of an idea no one thought of. Probably millions of people thought the future is cold coffee. But that’s a far cry from understanding how you build a sustainable business to succeed at cold brew coffee.” What’s even more important than the idea? “You have to love rigorous inquiry,” McVea says. “You have to be able to listen and empathize with others, and you have to enjoy problems coming at you. They love the journey more than the destination.”

Apr 14

1 hr 3 min

Perhaps you’ve noticed when you hit the checkout button on your online purchases there’s often an option to buy now, pay later. It’s reverse layaway—you get the goods now, and you pay them off in a four or six interest free installments. No fees, no need for credit. Young consumers seem to love it and so buy now pay later is being embraced by more and more retailers, from small indie shops to the big direct to consumer brands like Peloton and Warby Parker. The pandemic only accelerated adoption rates and analysts project buy now pay later solutions could rack up $680 billion in transaction volume worldwide by 2025. There are several big players in the field, like Afterpay and Affirm, which hit a $24 billion valuation after going public in January. But that hasn’t deterred Sezzle, a Minneapolis-based buy now pay later platform that went public on the Australian securities exchange in 2019 and continues to gain traction in the U.S. “I want to win,” says Sezzle founder/CEO Charlie Youakim, who was featured on TCB's Tech 20 in 2020. “We’re still in last place in the payment space, even though we’re having success. That’s what drives me. I know we can beat them. We just have to keep on innovating and listening to our stakeholders.” Yoaukim didn’t set out to create a payment platform. His is a winding founder’s tale that includes many startup signatures: sleeping on a couch, a fallout with a co-founder, a failure that eventually led to the big idea. "Start small," he advises other founders. "Find that first customers. Make it work great. Listen to that customer. When they have issues, fix them. When they have ideas, do them. Keep on walking forward." Sezzle launched in 2017 as a payment processing platform. Retailers liked the model because it was less expensive than credit card fees, but consumers didn’t latch on. “We ran with the idea that [a digital payment option] was a preference," Youakim says. "But what if it’s not a preference? What if it’s a lack of access? We flipped the hypothesis. We had to build a credit system.” Investors weren’t initially sold on the pivot. Youakim shares the process of winning them over, the advantages of going public in Australia, why buy now, pay later resonates with consumers, and how he’s placing purpose alongside profit with new products designed to help consumers build their credit scores. Everything is clicking now: Sezzle doubled its headcount in 2020 to more than 200 employees. The Minneapolis-based company just recently announced its certification as a B Corp, emphasizing its mission to "financially empower the next generation." “You just keep on pushing ahead,” Youakim says of building a business. “It’s like mountain climbing. Know where the pinnacle is, and keep picking a path with the goal that you want to get to the top.” Following our conversation with Youakim, we go Back to the Classroom with University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Consumer behavior expert Kim Sovell, a participating adjunct professor of marketing is tracking the rapid adoption of buy now pay later platforms, particularly among younger consumers. Usage skyrocketed from 2019 to 2020—200 percent among Gen Z; 86 percent among millennials. “It allows an individual to get immediate satisfaction out of a purchase but not go into debt.” But Sovell worries that the interest free, penalty free offers Sezzle and its competitors currently offer may evaporate. “I think they’ll start charging individuals that miss payments. I think that’s going to change. I also think people need to be aware: it does entice buying more.”

Mar 31

1 hr 7 min

Growing up in and around computer labs, with a mother who was a trailblazer in computer sciences, Yu Sunny Han developed a knack for solving problems through technology. He built computer games as a kid and sold his first piece of software at age 12, requesting the $500 fee be paid in quarters to play arcade games. Determined to chart his own course, Han chose chemistry as his college major but says “most of the problems I solved in school ended up leading me back to computer sciences.” So it happened that while working as a business consultant, he identified a problem in the manufacturing industry: a lack of modern business software to connect companies. “Manufacturing adopted so many aspects of technology first…20 years ago, but they haven’t changed since. And they expect it to be a painful process to update. I thought: what if all of these companies and people were connected: how much faster could we make stuff?” Still, it took Han a year and a half to quit a good-paying job and start a company with his own savings. He didn't aspire to be an entrepreneur. “No one else was doing it, and it needed to get done.” He built Fulcrum, a cloud-based software system that supports the business of manufacturing for a new generation of production. That’s everything from planning to quality control to inventory. Han estimates that as many as 12 million American manufacturers use outdated software. Fulcrum is poised to help the multi-trillion dollar industry take a giant leap forward, and that’s why investors are lining up. Fulcrum raised just over $3 million dollars in 2020 to expand its platform. He's listed on TCB's 2021 Tech 20. The momentum didn’t happen overnight. “We started out too unfocused, trying to serve every industry,” Han says. “We honed in on where we knew how to deliver the most value.” The number of customers on Fulcrum's platform multiplies every month and Han keeps hiring to stay ahead. The seed funding “added momentum to hire ahead of need.” In doing so, Han thinks as carefully about company culture as he does software—extra challenging in a pandemic, and with employees spread across the country. “There’s always so much to do, but we have to be able to say, no matter what, we’re going to get together online and play Among Us, or hang out on Zoom. We make time for every new hire to be grilled with questions from the team. We talk about everyone we lay off—what did they do well, and what could be better. What gels a team together is working on things, overcoming challenges, and being really transparent and honest with each other.” A product of the Twin Cities tech community, Han saw the great potential of the ‘80s, in the heyday of Control Data and IBM, and watched it slip away as companies were acquired and tech talent moved to the coasts. But a new generation of modern software companies like Code 42, Jamf, and his own, coupled with new seed funds like Ryan Broshar’s Matchstick Ventures and Mary Grove’s Bread & Butter (both previously featured on By All Means), gives him hope for the future of tech in Minnesota. “I wish people would think bigger. It takes as much effort to build something small as something big, and the value is compounded greatly.” After our conversation with Han we go Back to the Classroom with University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business professor Lisa Abendroth, academic director for Business in a Digital World. “Because of social media we take for granted the ease of connection today. He saw the pain points in manufacturing and how to deliver unique value to the market.” Of course, it takes humans to build smart technology. Abendroth points out the power of building a collaborative team. “We often take for granted the importance of a Taco Tuesday or group Pictionary. You have to be cohesive and communicate. Sunny’s product is trying to do that, too.”

Mar 17

51 min 21 sec

“Video games are an amazing covert teaching mechanism,” says Jules Porter, founder of Seraph 7 Studios, a Minneapolis-based videogame development studio on a mission to fight racism and build empathy by creating diverse characters and games that show the BIPOC community in a positive light. The epiphany hit as she toured Rome for the first time and realized she knew her way around because she had learned the city through a video game. Porter was a law student at the time, a path she decided to pursue following a troubling string of shootings of Black teenagers by white police officers. “I just felt so powerless,” Porter says. She listened to a Tedx Talk given by Dr. Artika Tyner, a University of St. Thomas law professor who said: “Law is the language of power.” And that solidified Porter’s decision to enroll. But midway through, Porter began to question whether it was enough. “The law can provide consequences, it can help set policy. But the issue, if a person doesn’t even see us as human, there’s something in the heart that the law can’t reach. How do we build empathy from the inside out?” Porter’s answer: video games. “Eighty percent of Black youths play video games, but only 3 percent of the protagonists look like us and they’re not even good guys. It’s so rare to find positive Black characters,” Porter says, pointing out that the number of BIPOC individuals and women who work as gaming programmers is negligible. “The decision makers are white men…in order for us to change the narrative and put more positive images out there, we need BIPOC folks to be part of the creative side.” Porter started sketching out game ideas while finishing law school. For a while, she clerked for a judge by day, and worked on her startup by night. Being accepted to the Finnovation Lab accelerator allowed her to finally focus on the business. Additional mentorship and funding comes from the American Express x iFund Women of Color 100 for 100 program. Porter’s first console video game, due out later this year, is called Elder Battle Royale and features an even split of male and female characters from diverse backgrounds. The characters are also seniors who fight enemies with weaponized walkers. There’s another side to Seraph 7 Studios. Porter wants to raise up a more diverse generation of coders by teaching BIPOC students to code. “There’s a lot of untapped opportunity.” The early attention Porter has received for her efforts, coupled with a string of grants and awards, could create undue pressure for a first time founder. But Porter says she feels driven, and optimistic. She thinks often of a favorite Oprah Winfrey quote: “Don’t focus on being successful; focus on being substantial and the success will come.” Following our conversation with Porter, we go Back to the Classroom with AnnMarie Thomas, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business and director of the UST Playful Learning Lab where she's observed firsthand how much kids absorb through play. “We know that kids are engaged differently in their learning when they’re having fun, seeing people who look like them,” Porter says. Thomas also points out how Porter’s eclectic interests—gaming, law, travel, theology—led to her idea for Seraph 7. “The secret to new ideas: they don’t come from just business classes; they come from all aspects of life. Ideas are everywhere,” says Thomas, pointing out that a liberal arts college like St. Thomas was able to support Porter as her interests and focus evolved. “Ideas are everywhere. Put yourself in situations for lifelong learning. Jules brings one heck of a toolbox to everything she does.”

Mar 3

52 min 31 sec

Never in modern history has office space been more disrupted than during the Covid-19 pandemic. And as CEOs contemplate how to bring workers back—whether they’ll bring workers back—architect and commercial designer Betsy Vohs is helping businesses reconsider the purpose of the office. “When else do you get a chance like this, to rethink the office?” Vohs is the founder and CEO of Studio BV in Minneapolis, a boutique design firm that works across industries, from medical clinics to apartment buildings to the headquarters for companies such as Digi International, nVent, and Evereve. Studio BV’s pro bono arm, Design Forward, works on projects for non-profit clients. “Good design creates something powerful,” Vohs says. “Space can tell your story.” How does that story change as a result of Covid-19? “Now we know why office space matters,” Vohs says. “We can do a fine job on Zoom, but we can’t innovate, we can’t create culture.” Not one Studio BV client plans a full-time return to the office. Vohs expects more independent work to happen at home, even when it’s safe to come back, so that means fewer cubicles and dedicated workstations while upping the emphasis on what she calls “innovation space.” Take note: Vohs shares some of her favorite design tips and resources. After our conversation with Vohs we go back to the classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Associate Professor of Management Erica Diehn studies meaningful work, and in the wake of Covid, that includes thinking about where we find meaning, and the important role place plays in creating high quality connections. “Our best work—curiosity, new ideas—that kind of creation doesn’t happen in solitude or when we’re powering through tasks. We need idle space in our brains.” Commuting to the office used to provide that time, and part of the reason working from home is proving stressful to many is that “every second of time is taken up by a present need.” “Stepping into the office can be a relief,” Diehn says, echoing Vohs’ sentiments on the way companies are going to rethink the office. “How do we create environments that reward the fact that I get to go to the office today. How do we make spaces that inspire more of that?”

Feb 3

1 hr 6 min

Renay Dossman built her career with Fortune 500 companies, moving from Cargill to Target, where she found her passion in food innovation. But after years of traveling the world for food trends, developing products, and eventually taking her expertise to Winn-Dixie where she developed concept stores to serve Black and LatinX neighborhoods, Dossman left the corporate world in search of something more. She found her way to the Neighborhood Development Center, a nationally lauded community development financial institution that provides training, small business loans, and incubator space to low income and BIPOC entrepreneurs. “NDC believes in building communities from within,” says Dossman, who became president of the nonprofit in 2019. “They believe in the power of entrepreneurship to develop generational wealth, to develop a community.” That mission resonated with Dossman, who grew up in Chicago public housing projects. “Where I lived, we didn’t have a lot of businesses. If you saw a business owner, they were usually a leader in the community.” NDC has helped more than 6,000 entrepreneurs. The organization estimates that for every dollar put into a local business, $40 goes back to the community. And the entrepreneurs who come to NDC don’t have options like angel investors or friends and family funding. “These are people coming to this country – what America is about,” Dossman says. “You should be able to come here and do things and make it. They just need a leg up, just need an opportunity.” NDC co-owns the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, home to many ethnic restaurants and retail businesses started by immigrants from all parts of the world. The market was particularly hard hit by the pandemic—many of its vendors don’t even have websites, let alone the ability to offer e-commerce or delivery. So NDC introduced tech support, reduced rent, and stepped up loans. And just when it felt like they were getting a handle on the economic impact, George Floyd was killed eight blocks from the market. “It just felt like everything stopped. I honestly didn’t know how to go on.” But there was no time to grieve as the market and the small businesses that surround it were threatened, and in many cases, destroyed, in protests that turned violent. “These are immigrants—people trying to make a living, and they’re trying to burn the market down,” Dossman recalls of that harrowing week in May, choking back the tears. “These were not people from our community who know what that market means.” The work continues, from more funding to help with rebuilding efforts to legal assistance and culturally specific mental health services. “We dug in and stepped up. I’ll do everything I can to keep these entrepreneurs going. I’m not giving up.” Following our conversation with Dossman, we go Back to the Classroom with University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business associate dean and diversity, equity, and inclusion ambassador Nakeisha Lewis to talk about disparities in funding for entrepreneurs of color. “Minority businesses are three times more likely to be denied credit, they rarely VC funding, they often pay higher interest rates. There are distinct differences and gaps in how they’re treated as entrepreneurs,” Lewis says. The answer, she says, is more tools, resources, and a fair chance at capital. “As we’re designing solutions for entrepreneurs, they should reflect local realities. We need programming that speaks to what’s culturally relevant and important to these groups.”

Jan 20

1 hr 3 min

Behind every plant-based burger, oat milk latte, and protein shake is one essential ingredient: pea protein. Without it, there’s no Beyond Meat. Minneapolis-based PURIS, fueled by a $100 million investment from Cargill, is the largest U.S. manufacturer of pea protein, and PURIS CEO Tyler Lorenzen says the company is just getting started. “Anything currently consumed as animal protein, PURIS is going to solve with plants to build a more efficient, sustainable, resilient food system,” Lorenzen says. “If we can do it in the U.S., we can do abroad.” Lorenzen didn’t expect to be leading a division of PURIS Holdings, the company started by his visionary father Jerry Lorenzen in 1985 in Iowa to develop high protein crops. Tyler Lorenzen played professional football for the New Orleans Saints, which won Super Bowl XLIV his rookie year. But when his football career ended sooner than expected—“I got cut,” Lorenzen deadpans—he quickly shifted to the other field that had figured prominently in his life thanks to his father’s work as a plant breeder: the farm field. “My dad saw in the mid-‘80s that eating animals to get protein was not sustainable. We needed to grow plants to feed people. And if we can make plants higher in protein, we can build a more efficient food system. That was the business my dad started, and the business we operate at scale today.” With the support of Cargill, PURIS will open a new pea protein processing plant this year in Dawson, Minn. Lorenzen expects the business to double in 2021 as PURIS continues to make strides in regenerative agriculture—from seed to shelf. “How do you create something game changing? It’s this concept of not being afraid to fail,” Lorenzen says. “You’ve got to be willing to take risks to do things that can change the world.” His goal is lofty: improve the health of people and planet. But he relates that mission back to football. “Having the drive to do things bigger than myself—that’s what sports has helped to create. Winning is so much better than losing. So we try to win as much as possible.” Fun fact: Tom Brady’s TB12 plant-based protein mixes are made with PURIS pea protein. After our conversation with Lorenzen about innovation and the future of food, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Executive Fellow and adjunct marketing professor Craig Herkert encourages entrepreneurs to “do something you believe in.” “I don’t know that we can point to any successful business person who says the goal was to get rich. The goal is do so something big, something that matters.”

Jan 6

58 min 48 sec

After 15 years at Google, Mary Grove made a sharp career turn that baffled many Silicon Valley insiders. She decided to become a venture capital investor—in Minnesota. “We got a lot of raised eyebrows…it didn’t necessarily make linear sense.” But Grove looked ahead, thinking: “where is the future of the innovation economy going to be written?” Serving as founding director of Google for Startups, supporting entrepreneurs in more than 100 countries gave Grove a taste of the innovation happening far beyond Silicon Valley. She joined Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund with a focus on Midwest ventures. In 2020, she co-founded her own VC firm with entrepreneur Brett Brohl called Bread & Butter Ventures—a nod to her adopted home state and to Minnesota’s deep industry expertise and corporate connections. Bread & Butter focuses on early-stage ventures in ag tech, med tech and enterprise software—with an emphasis not only on the products, but the people. Of the 36 companies they’ve invested in so far, 43 percent have a founder of color; 30 percent are female. “We invest in team, team, team, product, market, traction,” Grove says emphasizing that the product might change, but “if we pick the right team, we’ll find the answer.” She believes in providing opportunities to entrepreneurs who don’t fit the mold, and that starts early. Grove is the co-founder and executive director of Silicon North Stars, a nonprofit that she and her husband Steve founded in 2013 to help young Minnesotans from underserved communities pursue careers in tech. She also serves on the boards of Vital Voices, the Minneapolis Foundation, and the Techstars Foundation. Grove talks about the experience of working for one of the ultimate Silicon Valley startups, offers advice for entrepreneurs who seek funding, and discusses how Covid-19 will change the innovation economy. After our conversation we go Back to the Classroom with University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Associate professor of entrepreneurship John McVea points out several takeaways that have contributed to Grove’s success in tech without being a technologist. “She loves to find new areas, dive deep, learn fast, and immerse herself. Critical thinking will never go out of date.” Don’t be afraid of failure, he adds. “Reach for partners, take small risks. Start where you are—know what you know, who you know, and build out from there.”

Dec 2020

1 hr 7 min

In the 1990s, when Lee Wallace told business schools she was interested in studying the intersection of mission and money, they steered her into public policy. It was a time before B-corps and one-for-one brands. “Purpose” wasn’t the business buzzword it is today. But even armed with that master’s degree in public policy, Wallace continued to believe in the power of doing good while doing well. Eventually she found her way to a for-profit company founded on a mission to help farmers. That was Peace Coffee, an early champion of the fair trade model to create a transparent and sustainable system that directly benefits farmers and their communities. “The thing that’s so amazing about being presented with the opportunity to run a business founded to do the right thing is authenticity,” says Wallace, who came on as CEO in 2002 and bought the business in 2018 from its founding nonprofit, the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy. Today, Wallace is a recognized leader in social enterprise business, as well as fair trade enterprises and specialty coffee importers. She holds leadership roles in the Climate Collaborative and the B corps movement. And she doesn’t apologize for Peace Coffee’s success, because selling more coffee means purchasing more coffee beans at fair prices from farming cooperatives around the world. With a new eco-friendly Minneapolis manufacturing facility, Peace was well positioned at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis to respond to the sudden spike in coffee bean sales for home brewing. In 2020, Peace Coffee doubled its store accounts with Target and added 70 more Whole Foods stores. Despite losing the 15 percent of sales that came from restaurants, theaters, and offices, Wallace says she expects to end the year up 17 percent. But the challenges persist. The Peace Coffee headquarters is just off East Lake Street, near the Minneapolis Police Third Precinct that was burned down in protests following George Floyd’s killing. She talks about what it will take to restore the multicultural neighborhood’s vibrancy. And although it had not yet been announced publicly at the time of this conversation, Wallace shared that Peace Coffee is getting out of the coffee shop business to focus on growing wholesale. But even in that, she found a way to make it count, by partnering with nonprofit Wildflyer Coffee, which provides jobs to homeless youth. After our conversation with Wallace, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Case Frid is an assistant professor in the department of entrepreneurship whose work focuses on how business relates to community. “A corporate purpose is about your core reason for being and the impact your organization wants to have on the world,” Frid says. “It’s got to be relational, not transactional.”

Nov 2020

1 hr 2 min

Have you ever come up with what you thought was a really clever social media handle, sure to be your key to fame and fortune, only to find it’s been taken? Ahmed El Shourbagy is the envy of all would-be influencers. He’s the guy who grabbed the handle @dogsofinstagram in 2011. It happened not with a business plan in mind—influencer marketing wasn’t even a thing back then in the early days of Instagram—it was just a fun way to gather cute images of dogs, like his own Boston terrier/pug mix, Lucy. But as the following quickly grew to hundreds, thousands, and then millions, Ahmed and his now-wife Ashley, whom he met on day 10 of @dogsofinstagram, started seeing possibilities. They also saw the limitations of building a brand on a social media platform. Ahmed and Ashley parlayed a social media following that now stands at 4.7 million into a retail brand and platform they own. Lucy & Co. is a direct-to-consumer brand specializing in stylish dog accessories and apparel (the likes of which you might find on @dogsofinstagram). It took a while to find its footing, but Lucy & Co. it is now the fastest growing and most lucrative part of their business, with demand accelerated in 2020 thanks to a pandemic uptick in dog ownership and online shopping. Ahmed and Ashley talk about the paths that led them to entrepreneurship, the evolution of influencer marketing, and the transition from founder to CEO of a growing company. Then we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Retail marketing expert Kim Sovell, participating adjunct marketing faculty, says the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated conversion to online shopping. “We’ve seen 10 years worth of changes in the way we shop in just a few months,” she says. Her best advice to retail brands launching today: “Know your consumers at a granular level.”

Nov 2020

1 hr 4 min

“Sales will take you anywhere.” That skill took Jill Blashack Strahan from a small farm town where she ran a café and didn’t dare to dream much bigger to founder and CEO of national meal prep brand Tastefully Simple. At its peak in 2008, Tastefully Simple hit $143 million in sales with 20,000 sales associates executing home parties in small towns and big cities across the country. Mission: bringing people together to answer that age-old question, “What are we going to eat for dinner?” But after hitting that peak, sales began to slide. And slide. For 11 straight years, Tastefully Simple lost ground. For nearly seven years, there was no profit whatsoever. Strahan invested her own money to keep the company afloat—ignoring the advice of several turnaround consultants. “I just believed in my heart it was not time to give up on this.” Indeed, Tastefully Simple is once again profitable. With a much leaner executive team and renewed focus on sales and marketing training, Tastefully Simple was well positioned to pivot to virtual parties during the Covid-19 pandemic and has benefitted from renewed interest in home cooking and a desire to socialize—even if over Zoom—around food. Strahan takes us on her entrepreneurial—the jobs that led to her a-ha moment and the sacrifice it took to pull it off. “Fear is a great motivator,” she says. But what would a business professor have told her during the dark days of declining sales? After our conversation with Strahan, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Professor David Deeds, the Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship points out the fundamental difference between founder and CEO. “There’s a commitment and passion in an entrepreneur that is different than in a CEO. In terms of economics, she should have found a buyer. But from a personal standpoint, it made sense to keep going.”

Nov 2020

1 hr 12 min

“Our vision is to be a role model for inclusion in the industry,” says Rosemary Ugboajah, founder and CEO of Neka Creative, a Minneapolis-based brand development agency that makes inclusion a centerpiece of every project it takes on through a proprietary process dubbed Inclusivity Marketing. She entered the advertising industry without many preconceptions, having grown up primarily in Nigeria, without television. While in college in London to study engineering, she found herself drawn to design; an opportunity to learn the business side of advertising led her to the University of Minnesota. Ugboajah started her agency a decade ago, after years of working in other agencies and for Target Corp. She calls Neka Creative her “protest movement”—a response to stereotypes being perpetuated in marketing and a lack of diversity in the field. Her efforts toward inclusion included eliminating set office hours and diverse hiring practices. “We made a commitment and we’re still working on it. You’re always working on it.” The racial reckoning sparked by the death of George Floyd left Ugboajah feeling frustrated. “I was so angered by all the commitment emails I received—‘We’re committed to racial equity; we’re committed to diversity and inclusion.' I kept reading for concrete action steps, thinking: there’s no plan here. You have to tell us what you’re going to measure….People don’t want to stay in an uncomfortable place, but there’s no quick fix to becoming inclusive.” Ugboajah shares how her upbringing in Nigeria and London influenced her views on equity and inclusion, and steps businesses can take to move toward transformative change. After our conversation, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business diversity, equity and inclusion ambassador Nakeisha Lewis. “It’s a great time for making change, holding people accountable,” Lewis says. “My suggestion: think about what are some actionable things we can hold our organizations to. Business organizations understand metrics: recruitment, retention, how are we ensuring voices are amplified.”

Nov 2020

1 hr

It’s a good time to be in the business of selling immunity. Minneapolis-based wellness company So Good So You makes plant-based juice shots packed with probiotics that support the immune and digestive system. Each variety is named for the “need’ it addresses: Energy, Sleep, Detox, and the No. 1 seller, Immunity. At the start of 2020, the 2-ounce So Good So You shots were sold at 3,000 stores; now they’re at more than 4,000 stores in 47 states including Target, Publix, and Sprouts. The company, which has the backing of investors, managed to meet and exceed its 2020 sales projections and hit profitability. “What the pandemic has done is accelerate this movement of people understanding that investing proactively and managing their own health pays dividends when it comes to their immunity,” says co-founder Rita Katona. In 2014, she left a corporate job at Target Corp. to start a health and wellness company with her husband Eric Hall, a serial entrepreneur. It started as a cold-pressed juice café called Juice So Good, which expanded to three Minneapolis locations. Juice shots were simply an item on the menu, but became so popular, Katona and Hall decided to packaging them for wholesale and quickly realized the shots were a far bigger opportunity. “In entrepreneurship, you can’t let any single failure stop you,” Hall says. “You have to keep iterating.” So Good So You recently introduced its biggest innovation to date: a sustainable bottle it calls the BtrBtl that features a proprietary additive which allows it to biodegrade in landfills at an accelerated rate. “Everything we do goes through the filter of is it the best we can do at this moment for the environment?” Hall says. “This a long-term investment that is authentic to who we are, but we did it because we think it’s the right thing to do.” It’s one of many things the couple loves about building their own company: “As a company, you can do more good in the world than you can as an individual.” Katona and Hall talk about their very different paths to entrepreneurship, the opportunities ahead in the wellness space, and the importance of being willing to pivot. Afterwards, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Professor David Deeds, the Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, emphasizes the important of listening to consumers in the early days of a startup.

Oct 2020

1 hr 8 min

Abilitech Medical is on the brink of launching the first-of-its-kind wearable assistive device that makes it possible for patients with upper-limb weakness or injury to use their arms for everyday activities. “This is my imprint on the world,” says founder Angie Conley. Even before the Abiliitech Assist device becomes widely available through hospitals and clinics, it has already won numerous awards including the Tekne Award for innovation from the Minnesota High Tech Association and the Grand Prize and Top Woman-led Business at the Minnesota Cup, which is the largest state-led business competition. Abilitech has also been recognized as a Top 20 Medical Device Startup You Need to Know by MassDevice magazine; and a Top Promising Life Science Company by Rice University. So far Conley has raised $12 million, primarily in equity funding. Abilitech is Conley’s first startup, but years of experience in the medical device industry prepared her for the challenge. Following several years as a senior product marketing manager for Medtronic and a medical device marketing consultant, Conley took on the executive director role at Magic Arms, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit that works to help children with orphan medical conditions including muscular dystrophy. It exposed her to the need for an assistive device, and she quickly realized it would take more money than a nonprofit could raise to solve it. “The mission is what carries you through,” Conley says. The opportunity is significant: Abilitech’s initial market of multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy patients with enough hand function to operate the device is around $2 billion; Conley has her sights set on the stroke rehab market, which she says pegs at $30 billion. “It’s an exciting opportunity to fill an unmet need and change the lives not just of patients but their caregivers,” Conley says. After our conversation with Conley, we go Back to the Classroom with University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Dan McLaughlin, director of the Center for Innovation in the Business of Health Care at Opus discusses the med tech innovation happening beyond computers, in the area of motors and sensors. Emerging technology is an area of particular interest at St. Thomas. “That’s the best part of health care,” McLaughlin says. “You get to make those human connections and really change people’s lives.”

Jul 2020

55 min 9 sec

Tammy Lee launched a line of wearable cool therapy medical devices in February, 2020, and one month later, she had to shut down her new company due to Covid-19. It wasn’t the start she dreamed of for Xena Therapies. But then, Lee’s entire career is built on unexpected turns. Lee studied journalism and political science and landed a job as a Washington D.C. news correspondent. She crossed over to politics to become press secretary for then U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, a “prairie populist” from North Dakota. “I loved helping to influence public policy.” In 2006, she ran for U.S. Representative of Minnesota’s fifth district and lost. “The way I ran that campaign opened the door to the next great opportunity.” Lee was hired by Northwest Airlines to oversee communications during the Northwest-Delta merger. Then after vice president roles with the University of Minnesota Foundation and Carlson, Lee was recruited for the role that changed her career trajectory. Recombinetics, a St. Paul-based gene editing tech startup hired Lee for its No. 2 spot. She led the government approval process for Recombinetics’ technology. When the company’s CEO left, she took over. “I didn’t know anything about gene editing,” Lee says. “But what the board needed was someone who could tell the story of Recombinetics, raise capital and launch the company into the future. I knew how to raise money, and I knew how to tell a story.” She raised $34 million for Recombinetics. That success led to the next opportunity, at Nanocore, a Red Wing, Minn. startup that was developing cool therapy devices made with “phase change material” formulated to 58 degrees. Lee says she fell in love with the products—particularly a vest designed to cool women experiencing hot flashes due to menopause. But she left Nanocore in December 2019 after less than a year on the job. “It was a great product, but not the right business plan or access to capital.” In January, 2020, Lee launched Xena Therapies and hire back all 10 of Nanocore’s employees. She built out two product lines: Opal Cool wearable cooling devices for women—like the “Gal Pals” bra inserts; OnyxCool for orthopedic pain relief. The plan was to start by selling into hospitals and rehab centers, but just weeks after Xena Therapies' launch, most were shut down due to the pandemic. Pivoting to direct to consumer was tricky—“The product is so new, people don’t know to search for it.” Lee says she made the decision to ramp up marketing. “While many were retrenching, I decided to double down on my investment.” It’s slow going, but she says OnyxCool will soon make its QVC debut; Opal Cool is starting to get picked up by obstetrics and chiropractic practices. Lee estimates that the pandemic has set her business plan back only by about six months. Lee says everything she does even today comes back to storytelling. “What I think the common thread is for those of us who are entrepreneurs: we are naturally curious about learning about new things. And when you go into journalism, I think that’s your primary driver: you love to hear other people’s stories, you love to learn about them and you love to tell a story that is compelling to your audience. Founders and entrepreneurs are very much that way. They’ve got a story about a product that they want to tell the world.” After our conversation with Lee, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Dan McLaughlin, director of the Center for Innovation in the Business of Health Care at Opus thinks that in the wake of Covid-19, more startups will take a consumer-driven approach to pain relief and med tech. “A lot of health care system I grew up with has been turned on its head,” McLaughlin says. “A lot of people getting virtual care, and it works great. Direct to consumer is really strong…I don’t think we’ll ever sit in a waiting room for a doctor again.”

Jul 2020

48 min 23 sec

Aneela Idnani Kumar started pulling out hair from her eyebrows and eyelashes when she was a girl. In her early 20s, she Googled her secret habit and discovered it had a name: trichotillomania. An estimated one in 20 Americans suffer from what Aneela calls “the most common disorder you’ve never heard of.” In 2013, she finally revealed her struggle to her husband Sameer Kumar and together, they set out to find a solution—something that would alert Aneela when she started to reach for her eyebrows. They tried bangles; they created slap bracelets with craft store supplies. “We knew we needed something that would detect movement in hands,” Sameer says. Armed with that conviction, the couple entered a Minneapolis hackathon, where they met their chief technology officer and lead hardware engineer. Within 48 hours, they had the foundation for what would become HabitAware’s innovative product, the Keen, a behavior alert bracelet that sends vibrations when it detects movement. That awareness helped Aneela retrain her brain and stop hair pulling. “Our a-ha came at a moment when the technology was available and the Fitbit had made it cool,” Sameer says. Since launching in 2017, HabitAware has sold tens of thousands of Keen bracelets and won numerous startup awards, including Time magazine’s Best Innovations, and a 2019 National Science Foundation research grant for $225,000. The Kumars hope to grow HabitAware into a company that “helps with any behavioral problem where lack of awareness is the hurdle.” Prior to starting HabitAware, Aneela worked in advertising and Sameer in finance. “I truly believe that the ad industry is the basis for everything a startup needs to do: understanding your market, understanding that messaging. In that respect, I had been helping that process along for a number of years.”  Having a mission has made it easier to keep moving foward, Sameer says. ""When things get hard, you have to focus on the reason why you're in it, which for us was to solve this problem." ​ “It feels incredible,” Aneela says of HabitAware’s success. “Growing up, I assumed I’d have a regular, normal American life. Now I get to have the American dream.”  After our conversation with Aneela and Sameer, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. “Technology is transforming healthcare,” says Dan McLaughlin, director of the Center for Innovation in the Business of Health Care at St. Thomas. He suggests other possible applications for the HabitAware technology.

May 2020

48 min 44 sec

“We do not want to go back to being the way we were,” says Chuck Runyon, co-founder and CEO of Self Esteem Brands, the parent company to Anytime Fitness, Bar Method, Basecamp, and Waxing in the City. Anytime, the largest of the brands, has nearly 5,000 franchise locations on seven continents—all of which had to shut down over the course of about five weeks due to Covid-19. For a company based in Minnesota, Anytime Fitness was early to realize the potentially catastrophic threat of the coronavirus because of its clubs in China. But even as those locations shut down, Runyon says, “We thought it would be contained. After Anytime’s 20 clubs in Italy closed, “it escalated quickly.” In the U.S., Missouri clubs were the first to close and then every day, every week, came another. “Like dominoes.” “In all the years we’ve sat around in meetings of what if…never did any of us anticipate shutting down nearly 5,000 clubs around in the world in five weeks.” But since they have, Runyon says he wants to make the most of the unprecedented experience. “Let’s learn, let’s adapt, and let’s be better because of it.” Anytime, Bar and Basecamp have been releasing digital content including coaching, workouts and even recipes and nutrition tips. Some of the content is free to the public and has drawn a new audience. Going forward, Runyon says, “We want to make sure we offer an omni channel experience.” Changes will also come to Self Esteem Brands’ home office in Woodbury, Minn. where around 350 employees work. “We’ll be more nimble, faster, and adopt some work from home policies. We’ll analyze travel…I think we can be leaner, and every bit as productive.” One thing Runyon doesn’t think will change: enthusiasm for the gym. “Eighty percent of health club members say they are looking forward to getting back,” Runyon says. “I think it’s going to be a mini-January…. with a nice surge of people wanting to get back to normal.” Anytime is prepared to step up its cleaning protocol, modify traffic, and whatever else is required. “There’s no playbook for this,” he says. “I’ve been unbelievably proud of how the team has adapted so quickly, It’s been an incredible experience in so many ways.” After our conversation with Runyon, who previously appeared on By All Means with his co-founder and president of Self Esteem Brands Dave Mortensen, we go back to the classroom with University of St. Thomas marketing professor Gino Giovanelli. “The thing I loved about my classroom was the community. It’s the same for a health club. What they’re selling is camaraderie.”

May 2020

22 min 34 sec

Anticipating that face masks are going to be a necessary accessory for the foreseeable future, Love Your Melon is ramping up its collection and returning to the buy one, give one model that made the beanie brand famous: for every mask purchased, the company will donate one to someone in the medical community. “Seeing how people are being instructed now to wear them whenever they’re out in public, I don’t think there’s any chance that this production goes away for the next 6 to 12 months at least. They need to keep being improved,” says Zachary Quinn, LYM co-founder and president. Quinn appeared on this podcast in 2019 to share the LYM founder’s story, which started as a classroom project at the University of St. Thomas. To date, LYM has given more than $7 million to the fight against pediatric cancer and 191,000 hats to children battling cancer. Now, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, LYM is making face masks for hospitalized children and their families, who are at high risk of contracting Covid-19. The company committed to donating 50,000 masks and is now making masks available for purchase to support the cause. A few styles and colors are being made in both cotton and surgical wrap material. Quinn talks about the process of quickly jumping into production, while also responding to increased online demand for Love Your Melon's core products. “People are coming out to support brands that are working hard to make a difference,” Quinn says. But the fate of LYM's flagship showroom in the North Loop of Minneapolis is up in the air, he says. The lease is up at the end of the year. As for leading his team, which is now working remotely, Quinn says he is “making myself available – no matter whether the request is large or small. Everyone is trying to help, everyone has something to offer. I’m trying to focus on being inclusive.” The added pressure is actually helpful, Quinn says. “Under pressure you find a lot of peace and calmness. I’m excited to be hands on and have a purpose. That’s what I’m feeling good about: having a purpose and a unified mission.” After our conversation with Quinn, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Digital Marketing Professor Gino Giovanelli says LYM is well positioned to succeed in these unusual times. “They have the ability to reach customers through social media, which is very powerful. And they’re not dependent on bricks and mortar retail.”

Apr 2020

20 min 49 sec

In the course of three days in March, Punch Pizza went from record sales to shuttering its dozen Twin Cities restaurants and furloughing nearly 400 employees. “It took us by surprise how quickly it happened,” co-owner John Puckett said. With businesses like Punch upended by coronavirus, we're checking in on some of the entrepreneurs who have shared their founder’s stories on past episodes of the podcast to learn how they are navigating uncertain times. Prior to the crisis, about a third of Punch Pizza’s business was takeout. When it became apparent to Puckett and his partner, Punch Pizza founder John Sorrano, in mid-March that they may need to temporarily close their dining rooms, they installed phone stations in the basement of their Highland Park location in St. Paul to prepare for going takeout only. But an internal virus scare derailed that plan. “We thought we had a Covid-19 infection among staff. It turned out to be a false alarm, but we just realized, given the outbreak, we were going to have sick employees. We just said, there’s no way we can operate in a safe manner. “The world can live without Neapolitan pizza for a couple of months.” That was March 14—three days before Gov. Tim Walz ordered restaurants in Minnesota to shut down their dining rooms. Since then, Puckett says he’s been working around the clock on disaster aid, business interruption insurance, and planning the reopening. One of his biggest learnings: “Do not work with a bank that you don’t know the owner and senior management team. I thought it was smart to have a big national bank with resources, but those big banks neutered all the local bankers….we got burned. I feel so grateful to the small community banks that have been working around the clock to help small businesses.” Another change likely to come out of this disruption for Punch: “I don’t think we’ll be buying a lot of things from China after this. Domestic sources, U.S.-made products, even if it costs a little more…we will appreciate those local relationships a lot more.” As they begin to hire back some staff and prepare for reopening, Puckett says everything is on the table—like the possibility of remaining closed on Sundays. “When you go to 0 revenue, 0 profits from having a very successful business, you think differently about work/life balance,” Puckett says. “Restaurants are notorious for eating up people. A mandatory day off is an idea my partner and I think would help our culture and make it even stronger.” A May opening feels overly optimistic to Puckett. He says Punch won’t reopen until he can be sure employees are equipped with protective gear. He estimates recovery could take more than 2 years. “Quick service formats generally have an advantage. We’re going to make sure we have a really great value offer for our quality.” And when they do open, Puckett says, “I’ll be right in there making pizzas, serving customers on a hands-on basis until we get too big to do that. We want to reengage our entire team on serving the customers.” After our conversation with Puckett, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Marketing professor Gino Giovannelli emphasizes the importance of taking a wholistic and strategic approach to challenges. "We've got to come out of this better than we came into it."

Apr 2020

30 min 54 sec

Proozy just may be the biggest overstock deals website you’re not shopping—yet. But hundreds of thousands of people have discovered Proozy, which, like Nordstrom Rack or T.J. Maxx, offers discounts on brand apparel from Nike, Adidas and many others. Unlike its big box competitors, Proozy is strictly e-commerce—emphasizing daily flash deals and relying on analytics to determine its inventory. Based in Eagan, Minn., Proozy hit $40 million in revenue for 2019 and Segal expects to double that in 2020. The company started out in 2006 as Lyon’s Trading Company. Jeremy Segal was just 16 years old when he started buying overstock golf equipment from pro shops and selling it to support his own golf aspirations. Realizing his knack for selling was greater than his game, he expanded into activewear and then apparel and accessories for the whole family. “We don’t function like other retailers,” Segal says. “We’re using data to make decisions, and optimizing with tech. We’ve built repeatable, predictable business you can replicate.” Segal talks about his strategy and plans to grow Proozy into a $160 million company. This interview was recorded back in December, before the Covid-19 pandemic, but Proozy has continued to grow and make news. Proozy is hiring to keep up with demand, which Segal predicts will only grow as consumers become more price-sensitive coming out of the global crisis. After our conversation with Segal, we go Back to the Classroom with Dan McGlaughlin, a faculty member in the operations and supply chain management department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. He says Proozy is “using data in a fascinating way.” McGlaughlin uses Amazon as a case study in the classroom and points out the retail giant started with one product: books, much like Proozy started with golf equipment. “Amazon found one thing it was good at and the same thing is happening here.”

Apr 2020

47 min 45 sec

Marco was a typewriter dealer when Jeff Gau landed a sales job with the St. Cloud, Minn. company in 1973, fresh out of college after serving in the U.S. Air Force. He steadily rose through the ranks and helped Marco evolve from selling printers and shredders to businesses into a full-fledged IT services provider with 60 offices throughout the U.S. and more than $400 million in annual revenue. Through the years, Marco has continued to evolve with technology and grow—even as some of its early products became obsolete. “Change is great as long as it’s happening to someone else,” Gau jokes. But Gau got comfortable with change, overseeing dozens of acquisitions for Marco, which was employee owned from 1989 to 2015. When it was acquired by Norwest Equity Partners, many employees became millionaires overnight. And proof positive of the company’s strong culture of community and collaboration: they kept right on working. “Running a business is a team sport,” Gau says. “We play to our strengths.” Gau says the key to being a strong leader is not only knowing your personal strengths, but recognizing things that others can do better. “You need to give up control to get control.” Gau shares lessons he’s learned in leadership, collaboration, culture and adaptability. Afterwards, we go Back to the Classroom with University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business Professor David Deeds, the Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, who zeroes in on the way Gau has continued to welcome change and even seek it out. “Analyze your market, understand what’s going on," Deeds says. "Know your core capabalities and keep expanding on them. That’s how you win."

Apr 2020

55 min 6 sec

His company makes lifestyle products out of wood, but when the coronavirus crisis hit the U.S. in March, Woodchuck USA founder Benjamin VandenWymelenberg immediately started thinking about how he could help. His wood laser cutting machines proved ideal for making the face shields needed by health care professionals. By the end of March, Woodchuck had produced more than 200,000 PPE products. Last summer, Ben shared his founder's story with host Allison Kaplan and talked about how he stays motivated and engaged as a leader. This episode was originally released Sept. 4, 2019. ****** Wiping out on Rollerblades and cracking his iPhone prompted Benjamin VandenWymelenberg to make his first phone case out of wood scraps. An architecture student who had grown up on a farm, he liked the idea of bridging technology and nature. Friends asked him to make phone cases for them, and that was the beginning of Woodchuck USA. In a matter of months, Woodchuck was selling through Best Buy and Target. Now seven years old, the Minneapolis-based manufacturer of wood products counts Google, US Bank, Ecolab, and Aveda among its custom clients, and sells in gift stores across the country. Woodchuck plants a tree for every item sold, which has resulted in millions of trees planted on six continents. From the start, Woodchuck’s mission was far broader than its product collection: “Nature back to people. Jobs back to America. Quality back to products.” Says VandenWymelenberg, “We might give up on the product, but we’re not going to give up on the mission.” While the core company continues to grow, Woodchuck also added an interiors division which makes wood dividers and panels for offices. Meanwhile, VandenWymelenberg, 28, has gotten into real estate development, buying the building that houses Woodchuck and creating a startup hub in Minneapolis. He’s also building a nature center in central Minnesota. And he found time to visit all seven continents, and write a book about entrepreneurship called “The World Needs Your F-ing Ideas.” On this episode of By All Means, VandenWymelenberg talks about mission, marketing and the challenge of shifting his focus from founder to leader. He shares some early failures and missteps that he believes helped him get where he is today. Success, he says, is “literally a lot of failing and getting back up.” After our conversation with VandenWymelenberg, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Faculty Director Mike Porter sheds light on how to get new products on store shelves, and the potential pitfalls of borrowing startup capital from friends and family.

Apr 2020

1 hr 4 min

On Monday March 16, in the face of a national emergency, John Puckett joined Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz at a press conference announcing that restaurants and bars must close to stop the spread of coronavirus. It's a death blow for many in the hospitality industry, but Puckett said "it's time to hunker down and protect our vital resources." How do you lead through crisis? This conversation from our first episode of By All Means in April 2019 is sure to provide some inspiration. *** John Puckett and his wife Kim had a case of “the Mondays” that struck almost as soon as they landed corporate jobs after business school. “Life is too short to spend Sunday night dreading going in to work on Monday,” John says. “We felt like life is … too precious to not really feel connected to your work and passionate about what you’re doing.” That conviction led to the creation of Caribou Coffee, now the No. 2 coffee chain in the U.S. It's No. 1 in Minnesota—the one market Starbucks doesn’t dominate—and that’s because of several strategic decisions made by the Pucketts. They grew the chain to more than 100 stores before selling in 2000. A year later, John became co-owner of a small but beloved St. Paul restaurant called Punch Pizza. He’s spent nearly 20 years growing Punch slowly, locally and without any outside investors. Puckett explains why he was determined to build a different sort of company his second time around. Following our conversation with Puckett, we go Back to the Classroom with University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business Professor David Deeds, the Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, who explains the pros and cons of venture capital and why slow growth is under appreciated in business today.

Mar 2020

49 min 3 sec

Behind every successful founder are the advisors, investors, mentors, and marketers who are integral to getting it right. Kent Pilakowski is one of those behind-the-scenes experts who helped to build Beyond Meat, Talenti, Good Karma and other hot food brands that have sold or gone public. Pilakowski shares his journey from General Mills to entrepreneurship and talks about the evolution of the food industry and what it takes for a new brand to break through today. “Food has become a lot more fashionable,” says Pilakowski, who got a sales job with General Mills out of college in the 1990s and moved more than a dozen times before landing in general management at corporate headquarters in Minneapolis. He worked on two organic acquisitions: Muir Glen and Kaskadian Farms, and that opened his eyes to the opportunity for industry disruption. “Entrepreneurs start a business for passion, for health, to save the world, to save the environment. I saw a groundswell happening.” Pilakowski likes to say he isn’t the “ideas guy,” but he can spot a good one. He took six months to de-program himself from corporate culture and spent time talking to entrepreneurs before setting up a team and getting into position to help build businesses. “Early on, it’s all about the entrepreneur—not the business. You’re betting on the scrappiness that they’re going to figure it out. Often, the business itself has to do a complete 180.” Pilakowski has seen seismic change in food entrepreneurship since the early days of his career. There’s more money, more innovation, and actually, he says, it makes success that much more elusive. “A lot more people want to change the world. Now when you walk the halls of food industry shows, there are 8 million different ideas. There’s more money coming in, which enables entrepreneurs to do stupid, non-scalable things. Very few are making money.” Pilakowski offers advice on defining success, and knowing when to sell. He also talks about the decision to sell his own firm to spend more time with his three young children. After our conversation with Pilakowski, we go back to the classroom with University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Professor David Deeds, the Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship. Deeds points out the important role a partner like Pilakowski can play for an entrepreneur. “They bring things to the game you don’t have: branding, marketing, fulfillment. You either have to find it, or learn it.”

Mar 2020

52 min 34 sec

Growing up on an Iowa farm taught Ryan Broshar about taking risks and working hard. And it made him realize at an early age that he’d rather sell the corn than harvest it. His first startup, a university-based publication business called University Guide, grew out of an entrepreneurship class assignment at the University of Minnesota. It became a profitable business that Broshar sold two years out of college. While pursuing an MBA at Colorado University-Boulder, he got involved in the emerging startup community and worked for an investment fund. It was 2008—“the economy was crashing, but (tech startups) weren’t going down; they were thinking forward.” When he and his wife moved back to Minnesota to be closer to family, Broshar saw an opportunity to support the Twin Cities startup community. He co-founded BetaMN, a support system for founders that puts on a showcase-style event to connect founders with investors. Next, he co-founded Twin Cities Startup Week, which has become a national draw, attracting large companies and investment dollars to Minnesota. He was instrumental in bringing the Tech Stars Retail Accelerator program to Minnesota, and served as managing director for four years before leaving to concentrate on Matchstick Ventures, a seed stage firm focused on early stage tech companies in the Midwest and Rockies. In 2019, Matchstick raised $30 million in its second round. The fund has invested in 50 companies to date including Upsie and Inspectorio. “What I really liked about my own startup was the start,” Broshar says. “I like the zero to one of building a company. One to 10, I get kind of bored and start thinking, what’s the next idea? When you’re investing, you’re always starting. It’s a great fit for me.” Early stage investing appeals to Broshar because of the mentorship component. “You have to have empathy for the founder and understand there are going to be pivots. When you’re an early investor in an early stage company, it’s part financial support, part cheerleader, party psychologist. Being a founder is a lonely road and a lot of times, they look to investors as their strength.” What do Broshar and his Matchstick partner look for in startups? “We like to support founders that are underdogs. That come from untraditional backgrounds. People who have the feeling they were put on Earth to solve this problem. They’re obsessed with what they’re doing.” Being a venture capitalist isn’t for everyone. “You’ve got to love coffee,” Broshar says—only half jokingly, describing the significant amount of time he devotes to meeting potential founders, partners and investors. And you have to get comfortable saying no. “The Midwesterner in me wants to please everyone,” Broshar says. “It really comes down to: Is this a fit, is it a good use of my time. I’m trying to be very clear about the kind of stuff Matchstick likes to invest in. And if I can make connections, I'm happy to do that.” As for the VC world in general: “Venture capital is insanely risky,” Broshar says. “It’s the only profession in the world where you can be wrong the majority of the time and still be the best at it.” After our conversation with Broshar, we go back to the classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Entrepreneurship professor John McVea points out that less than half of a percent of all startups get venture funding. Of them, less than 1 percent make it to $1 billion in value, but those “unicorns” as they’ve come to be known, generate the lion’s share of publicity. While VC money is less prevalent than the media would have you believe, “Venture capital has had a huge cultural influence,” McVea says. “Along with the VC model came the idea of the lean startup: get a quick product out the door really fast, try it, measure and learn, pivot, redesign. It’s opened the door to a lot of people who would have been reticent—afraid they didn’t have the perfect idea. Many entrepreneurs learn as they go.”

Feb 2020

1 hr 5 min

Atif Siddiqi knew he wanted to build a business. When considering problems to solve, he harkened back to his high school sales job at a t-shirt shop, where there was no automated system for employees to trade or pick up available shifts. Years later, he discovered, not much had changed. He launched Branch in 2014 as a scheduling tool for hourly employees. It has since evolved into a mobile-first platform on a mission to “make the lives of hourly workers financially better.” Branch provides no-cost advances on earned wages. The app is used by hundreds of thousands of hourly employees at large companies including Life Time and Target. Along the way, Siddiqi has become an authority on the topics of employee satisfaction, financial wellness, and how employee engagement can help a company’s bottom line. “What we hear is employees are looking for more predictability in their schedules as well as flexibility. Uber has made it possible to pick up a shift any time—that’s driving consumers to want that from their workplace,” Siddiqi says. “Unemployment is at all time low. Companies are having a tough time attracting talent. When they do, the vast majority are seeing 60 to 100 percent turnover annually. The average cost to hire a new employee is $2,500—that’s recruitment, on-boarding, training. Anything we can do to slow down churn goes a long way toward the bottom line. It’s investing in growth.” Forty percent of Branch users have no money in the bank; 75 percent have less than $500. “An unexpected expense can really derail their personal and work lives,” Siddiqi says. A California native, Siddiqi moved his company to Minnesota in its early days to participate in Target Tech Stars. The experience was critical to Branch’s success. “For an entrepreneur, working with a big organization is like a black box—you don’t know how decisions are made. It allowed us to peer inside the black box, understand how tech initiatives are implemented, how they’re deployed, how new tech interacts with all the existing tech already in place. It was really fundamental to us understanding how to deploy within an organization. One of the things we got really good at: reducing amount of friction to implement.” By the time Branch completed Target Tech Stars in 2016, the company was growing and Siddiqi decided to make Minneapolis headquarters, and home. “The Twin Cities has a lot of great talent, especially around enterprise B-to-B software.” Branch employs 65 (up from 45 when this interview was recorded just a few months ago), has raised more than $10 million, and is making money, Siddiqi says. “If we can help employees continue to grow their account balance over time after downloading the app, that’s success for our team—our North Star and what guides us.” As far as advice for other entrepreneurs? “Start building,” Siddiqi says. “There’s no substitute for actually building product, learning from customers and hearing what they have to say.” We dig into that strategy in Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. John McVea, an associate professor at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, says there’s been a huge change in emphasis on entrepreneurial strategy from ready, aim, fire, to fire, ready aim. “We used to teach: think, research, plan, execute. Logical, not random. But when we talked to real life entrepreneurs, very few operate this way. They jump off a cliff and try. They make mistakes, pivot, learn, and keep going. Often they end up in a place that is different than we would have ever intended.” The takeaway? “I’m not saying don’t plan,” McVea says. But he urges entrepreneurs to take a more outward focused approach. “Spend time making a product, making mistakes, and learning.”

Feb 2020

36 min 27 sec

From maker to manufacturer: Mercedes Austin started making ceramic tiles in her apartment 18 years ago, and today, her company, Mercury Mosaics, occupies a 15,000 square foot factory in Minneapolis that produces tile for Room & Board, lululemon, PF Chang, major hotel chains, and other large clients as well selling direct to consumer. In the next year, Mercury Mosaics will open a second manufacturing center in Wadena, Minn. and a third is already being planned—both with a focus on creating jobs in small towns. It’s been a long and winding road for Austin, who stumbled into ceramics while studying psychology and took on apprenticeships to learn the trade while waiting tables to pay the bills. “I didn’t start out with the greatest self-worth,” Austin says. “My mom didn’t give me money, so I always had to figure out a way. Becoming resourceful, not having anything handed to you—it always motivated me to do really well by any means necessary. I’m most proud that I didn’t turn out how everyone said I would.” Ten years ago, as Mercury Mosaics gained momentum, Austin stopped making tiles so she could concentrate on growing the business. She shares stories of how she gave tile away to make connections with architects and how she changed her sales strategy seven times and eventually stopped paying commission to create a more cohesive team focused on growth. “I’m not afraid to start things over,” Austin says. Since eliminating the commission structure, sales have grown by 25 percent. “We formed a team that is working together versus internal opponents.” After our conversation with Austin, we go back to the classroom with University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Professor David Deeds, the Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship. Deeds zeroes in on the key to Austin’s success. “She started with passion for art and craft. But her passion today is about managing this business. She’s really evolved. She’s been open to learning and picking up the skills she needed.” That transition is essential, he says, for a founder to become a successful CEO.

Feb 2020

1 hr 3 min

Erik Brust was still a teenager when he came up with the idea for an all-natural popsicle—a fruit smoothie on a stick. He and some friends started making them in their dorm at St. Olaf College and by the time they graduated, Jonny Pops was a brand on the rise in the frozen foods industry. Eight years later, St. Louis Park, Minn.-based Jonny Pops is sold nationwide at Target, Costco, Sam’s Club and many other chains. In 2018, Brust and co-founder and chief financial officer Connor Wray were named to Forbes 30 under 30 list of young entrepreneurs. At 27, Brust is CEO of a fast-growing company with nearly 50 employees…most of whom are older than he is. “They love telling me I’m younger than their kids are,” he says. Brust talks about how he got Jonny Pops off the ground (“I don’t see any other way to get a business going unless you commit 100 percent to it.”), the lonely process of raising money (“It’s very humbling to go out there and pitch your idea and hope that people are going to believe in you and then give you money to go live that out.”), and transitioning from founder to leader. “I’ve shifted from individual contributor–making pops, working farmers’ markets—to, how do I hire people who are better at this than I could ever be, and have a consistent culture.” He shares his biggest mistake: being too slow to hire. “You realize how much stronger you are when you have amazing people working on the business.” And Brust discusses the opportunities ahead for Jonny Pops. “We’re in 12 to 15 percent of grocery stores. Now we’re setting our sights on 60 to 70 percent and thinking about how to kick off big advertising campaigns and innovate new, exciting flavors. All of those are fun for us right now.” After our conversation with Brust, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. John McVea, an associate profession in the entrepreneurship department, talks about the different leadership styles require to take a company from startup through growth. “In the startup phase, you need someone with really clear vision. Almost autocratic. Never compromise. You also need a person who is charismatic,” McVea says. “You get to a certain point in growth when suddenly growth is not the singular objective. Consistency, efficiency, cost, management become important as well. This is when you see many serial entrepreneurs leave. They don’t find it fun, and don’t make it fun for anyone else.”

Jan 2020

54 min 40 sec

Throughout his career as a TV meteorologist, Paul Douglas has found ways to turn weather data into business. He's launched and sold more than one weather related startup and has several others up his sleeve. "i love the intellectual challenge of launching new businesses," Douglas says. But he also loves telling weather stories, and finding ways to innovate. During his time at NBC affiliate Kare 11 in the 1980s and early 90s, Douglas launched the “backyard” format, which is still used today by that station, and many others nationwide. He also became one of the first meteorologists in the country to use graphics in his report. He worked for a time at WBBM-TV in Chicago, where he made occasional appearances on the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. Then he became Minnesota’s first certified broadcast meteorologist, and returned to Minnesota where he served as Chief Meteorologist for WCCO-TV from 1997 to 2008. Meanwhile, off camera, he started realizing the opportunity to pair his meteorological expertise with technology. It started with creating better TV graphics. “I wanted to disrupt what had become boring,” Douglas says. He launched EarthWatch Communication, delivering weather graphics to hundreds of television stations in the United States and 20 other nations. And he founded Digital Cyclone, Inc. (DCI), which, in the pre-iPhone era, personalized the weather forecasting experience for consumers on the web, e-mail and cell phones. In 2007, he sold DCI to Garmin, Inc, for $45 million. Douglas has three new companies that offer weather data to businesses, from farming to manufacturing to Netflix, which, he says, knows that viewing habits change based on the weather. “Weather directly impacts about one third of the GDP,” Douglas says. “Smart companies are pulling data in, they’re not just watching weather shows.” His next venture: helping businesses estimate the impact of global warming and weather volatility on their supply chains and facilities. “Sustainability is not a fad; it’s a trend,” Douglas says. “I’ve been talking about climate change for 25 years. I’m a conservative, but the data is the data. We have to figure out how to keep the economy rolling along, keep people employed while putting a lighter footprint on God’s creation.” Douglas talks about the challenges of being both entrepreneur and media personality. Today, he provides daily print and online weather services for Star Tribune in the Twin Cities, and co-hosts WCCO Radio’s afternoon show with Jordana Green. During extreme weather, you’re likely to find him on MSNBC or CNN. After our conversation with Douglas, we go back to the classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business Professor David Deeds, the Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, who shares his take on why Douglas has been so successful as an entrepreneur. “He leveraged a core skill and married it to different kinds of applications.” When you know the subject matter, Deeds says, it’s easier to understand the problems, and spot opportunities for disruption.

Jan 2020

48 min 49 sec

John Butcher held 15 jobs in 20 years with Target Corp. and it taught him to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. So when an executive recruiter called about a leadership role at Caribou Coffee, the Minneapolis-based premium coffee chain with nearly 700 locations worldwide, Butcher said yes to the interview, even though he knew very little about coffee or the restaurant business. “Any business that can strike an emotional chord is interesting to me,” he says. Butcher joined Caribou as president in 2017, at a time when the company was “not reaching its potential,” Butcher says. “Ultimately, we weren’t being very guest focused." Butcher talks about how he listened, learned, and made purposeful changes that have resulted in improved sales, employee retention, and the best customer service feedback Caribou has ever received. In 2019, Butcher was named CEO of Caribou, which is owned by Luxembourg-based JAB Holdings Co. but has its headquarters in a suburb of Minneapolis. He has since embarked on plans to redesign Caribou cafes, open smaller format stores, and move into canned beverages. He talks about coffee trends, shares leadership advice, and offers tips in shifting culture and adding purpose. Says Butcher, "It’s important to me to know the effort I’m putting forth every day is doing more than making money." After our conversation with Butcher, we go back to the classroom with Gino Giovannelli, a digital marketing professor at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, who points out some of the leadership decisions that have allowed Butcher to thrive as a newcomer to Caribou. “The answers come from within. But you have to be willing to ask, and not immediately try to fix.”

Jan 2020

52 min 38 sec

Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen opened their first Anytime Fitness gym in 2002. Their concept was an alternative to big box gyms: A no-frills space with little supervision…just workout equipment that was available literally any time. Seventeen years later, Anytime Fitness is the world’s largest fitness franchise company with $2 billion in annual revenue and nearly 5,000 locations on all seven continents, thanks to a recent opening on a ship that spends half the year in Antarctica. Runyon and Mortensen created a parent company, Self Esteem Brands, that also includes Waxing The City, Basecamp Fitness and Bar Method. They’ve earned just about every entrepreneurial award imaginable – they’ve been recognized as one of America’s most promising companies by Forbes, and the fastest growing fitness club by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. They did it all on instinct and “grit.” As Runyon says, only half jokingly, “Our company wouldn’t hire us today.” The two share the lessons they’ve learned about leadership, wellness, and strategic growth. Says Runyon, “As leaders we need to celebrate when our team is doing well, but then we need to raise the bar again.” After our conversation with Runyon and Mortensen, we go back to the classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Marcella De La Torre, who teaches course on leadership and business ethics, highlights some of the keys to Anytime’s success. “They are constantly adjusting to the complexity of the business. As you grow, you need more complex strategic plans. They are not naïve.”

Jan 2020

47 min 30 sec

Nineteen years after mortgaging their home to open a neighborhood ice cream shop in St. Paul, Minnesota, the founders of Izzy’s are poised to take their ice cream national. “Our vision is to compete directly with Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s,” says Jeff Sommers, who focuses on sales while his wife Lara Hammel is the mastermind behind popular flavors like Midnight Graham Crunch and Butter Caramel Salted Swirl. Sommers, a former high school teacher, and Hammel, a lawyer, talk about what prompted them to leave their careers to get into the ice cream business, and how they’ve grown from one shop to two, plus grocery and restaurant distribution in Minnesota. Also why now feels like the right time to expand. “There’s a whole bunch of space in the middle now for classic ice cream,” Sommers says. From their patented “Izzy Scoop” to a collaboration with musician Dessa, the husband and wife duo talk about what drives them. Says Sommers, “You just have to be passionate about the thing you want to do in business.” How do you know when the time is right to grow? For perspective, we go Back to the Classroom with University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business associate professor John McVea. Too often, he says, entrepreneurs get hung up on the idea that any growth is good growth. “That can be a terrible mistake. Growth brings with it great opportunity, but great risk,” McVea says. “Growth is a choice, and it must be a strategic choice. The first question to ask: Why do you want to grow? What is your objective?”

Dec 2019

1 hr 5 min

Larissa Loden is a jewelry designer whose line is now sold in more than 800 stores nationwide including high profile names like Modcloth, WildFang and the Smithsonian Museum. And only four years ago, jewelry was a side hustle to her day job as an art teacher in the Minneapolis public schools. Loden grew up in retail—her parents own a gift store in upstate New York and she knew didn’t want to go into the business. Making jewelry was simply a hobby in the quiet hours after teaching. But as the necklaces piled up, her entrepreneurial instinct kicked in and she began to sell—first on Etsy, then at pop-up markets, and when she went to her first trade show, the orders from gift stores and museum shops began pouring in. Today, she manages a growing team of 9 full-time and 15 contract employees and balances the growing demands of a creative profession with the details of running a successful business. “The past two years I’ve really tried to level myself up,” Loden says. “Creating something from nothing keeps you on your toes, but I love the exhilaration of it.” Loden talks about why she still sells at pop-up events, how she’s able to keep her average price below $50, and her decision to be a brand that stands for something–even at risk of alienating potential customers. After our conversation with Loden, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Professor David Deeds, the Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, talks about the transition from artist to entrepreneur. “You start off as the designer or the chef or whatever it is – the skill that gets it all started. But you eventually become a manager, so you have to build the skills.”

Dec 2019

51 min 50 sec

Fitness wasn’t a career path when Chris Freytag attended college, but her lifelong passion for movement and wellness led her to become an entrepreneur—even before she knew that's what she was doing. Today, Freytag is a national fitness expert and author with a massive social media following. She's the founder of content platform Get Healthy U and on-demand subscription workout program Get Healthy U TV. Freytag walks us through the many paths she pursued along the way to running her own business—from making dance aerobics VHS tapes in the 1980s to selling smoothie makers on QVC. Through it all, her mission is clear: “I want to educate, inspire, and sometimes make people laugh…because you’ve got to keep it real.” Freytag talks about aging, as well as fitness trends and what it means to live a healthy life. “The fitness industry is about looking good. But if that’s your only why, it won’t last. You have to have deeper ‘why’s.’” Through it all, Freytag says she’s learned a lot about herself, and business. “Use your connections. Get to know people. Be kind-hearted. Give to people, and get back from them because you never know where it’s going to take you.” After our conversation with Freytag, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Marcella de la Torre, who teaches courses on leadership and business ethics, talks about turning passion into a profession.

Nov 2019

51 min 30 sec

We talk endlessly about diet and exercise. But what about sleep? There’s no class in school, and in the workplace, there’s often a stigma around admitting fatigue. That’s where Sarah Moe saw her opportunity. "I tell people: I work in sleep medicine. That's a real job." A Board Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT) who spent 10 years working for sleep medicine clinics, Moe created her own consultancy called Sleep Health Specialists. She spends most of her time helping businesses learn how to make their culture more sleep friendly. Today, 20 percent of the population suffers from a sleep disorder. The average employee costs an employer $3,000 per year from being tired—that’s illness, absenteeism and lack of productivity. Moe talks about how she set up her practice, how the corporate community is responding, and the enemy of sleep that’s even worse than caffeine: blue light. And what to do about it. After our conversation with Moe, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Mike Porter is faculty director of the health care innovation program. He says that a lot of times, entrepreneurs who are so passionate about their pursuit can be challenged to make good business decisions. He talks about what Moe is doing right and what’s in it for companies that promote sleep.

Nov 2019

33 min 48 sec

At a time when modern design wasn’t readily accessible to the masses, college friends Maurice Blanks and John Christakos, with their friend Charlie Lazor, channeled a shared passion for art, architecture and design into contemporary furniture brand Blu Dot. “There was a whole segment of the market unexplored,” Blanks says. “The J.Crew of furniture.” The line was a hit when it launched at a trade show in 1997 and the founders never looked back. Today, Blu Dot has stores in eight U.S. cities and in Mexico and Australia and a growing commercial interiors division. Blu Dot won the 2018 Cooper Hewitt National Design award for Product Design. “It's great to see the vision really coming to life now, 22 years later, the way we always wanted it to," Blanks says. "There’s just so much room for continued growth."  Blanks and Christakos discuss design thinking—an approach they apply to both furniture and leadership. “Our core value: good design is good. We see everything as a design opportunity,” Christakos says. “It’s not just products, but organizational structure, compensation. Business decisions are design decisions.” To that end, the founders say Blu Dot started as a design company. "It could have been picture frames, knick knacks—we talked a lot from the very beginning about what the brand would be about and how could we create a company that someone would describe like they would describe a person," Blanks says. "With a real sense of self."  Christakos adds one of the best pieces of advice he received from a mentor: "Pick something you love to do and trust you'll do it better. It was a real epiphany for me. A lot of folks think when they start a business they have to come up with the big idea, something new. Starting a furniture business is not a new idea." Blanks and Christakos talk about building a company the old-fashioned way: by reinvesting profits rather than taking outside investments, and why they think the availability of VC money has actually made starting a business more difficult. They also talk about the changing retail landscape and how it shifted their sales strategy. After our conversation with Blanks and Christakos, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Alec Johnson is an associate professor in the department of entrepreneurship. “Most good design is human-centered design,” he says, and offers tips on how to think about a design centered approach to business.

Nov 2019

54 min 35 sec

While working at HealthPartners as a front desk registrar, Katrina Anderson noticed that medical students were having trouble getting signed up for clinical rotations. She had the idea to create a platform that would allow hospitals to post their schedules online so students can easily and securely sign up. LinkedIn meets Airbn is how Anderson describes it. She and her partner called their software program Clinician Nexus. Founded in 2016, the startup has already raised $750,000 and is being used in 95 hospitals and 136 school schools around the country. They're just getting started. Clinician Nexus is about more than real-time scheduling, Anderson says. The platform addresses what has become a major problem for hospitals and medical schools: providing medical students with enough clinical hours to finish their degrees. “We might not have enough physicians if we don’t have enough slots to teach them and they can’t graduate on time. When you invest in the health care system, it improves patient outcomes.” Anderson talks health care, technology, raising funds (Clinician Nexus investors include the University of St Thomas, where Anderson earned her MBA) and becoming an accidental entrepreneur. “I’m trying to grow into being a CEO. It’s not an identity I ever thought I’d work with.” So what convinced her to go for it? “A world without Clinician Nexus was scarier than quitting my job.” After our conversation, we go Back to the Classroom with Dan McLaughlin, director of the Center for Innovation in the Business of Health Care in the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. He says Anderson used classroom lessons in founding her business. “It’s the theory of constraints: you look for a bottleneck,” McLaughlin says. “She found one in scheduling.”

Nov 2019

37 min 32 sec

Fred Haberman is co-founder and CEO of Haberman, a Minneapolis-based branding, advertising, and public relations agency that counts Volvo, Organic Valley and Boston Scientific among its clients. But he’s also a social entrepreneur with a passion for organic foods, wellness, and the outdoors, and so Haberman continues to launch other ventures, even while running his agency. Haberman founded the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and grew it into an annual event drawing well over 20,000 players and spectators from across the country. He also co-founded Urban Organics, one of only two USDA certified organic aquaponics facilities in the country, which was acquired by Pentair in 2017. His latest venture is Freak Flag Organics, a line of flavorful condiments and sauces now sold online and in local grocery stores. “The idea is to be yourself in the world, and in the kitchen,” he says, adding that this is the brand he intends to focus on for the foreseeable future. But as you’ll hear, Haberman always has another idea. “Starting a business is kind of like a disease. It’s not always the healthiest thing to be creating things. I can't help myself.” How do you strike the right balance between passion and profits? We talk about working on things you believe in, building partnerships, and managing the instinct to keep starting things. After our conversation with Haberman, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Katherina Pattit is an associate professor of ethics and business law. For a serial entrepreneur, “the partnership piece is critical,” Pattit says. “When you have partners who understand the mission, you can work together for the benefit of each other’s strengths.”

Oct 2019

45 min 57 sec

By All Means host Allison Kaplan sits down with one of her mentors, Burt Cohen, founding publisher of Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business, to talk about the magazine business, leadership, and sandwiches. A 1955 graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Cohen’s publishing career included management roles with the New York Times Media Company, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and Modern Medicine Publications. He purchased a small city magazine called MPLS in 1978 and transformed it into Mpls.St.Paul, now the Twin Cities’ leading lifestyle magazine and a leader in the field of city and regional magazines nationally. That was the beginning of MSP Communications, one of the first publishing companies in the country to create content for brands. MSP-C, the company's custom division, has developed more than 225 print and digital titles and platforms to date. In 1993, Cohen created MSP's second editorial magazine, Twin Cities Business, with the help of partners Gary Johnson, president of MSP Communications, and Brian Anderson, who served as editor of Mpls.St.Paul until his death in 2010. Cohen is TCB's founding publisher. A mentor to many in business and publishing, Cohen has served on numerous boards including Medica, Minneapolis Institute of Arts and University of St. Thomas. He played a key role in modernizing the mission of the University of Minnesota School of Journalism. Cohen continues to write a monthly column for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. He is likely the only person on Twitter who types his tweets on a manual typewriter and hands them to an intern to be posted online @thecohenreport, which he never looks at. His LinkedIn profile, which is is also unaware he has, lists him as “old columnist.” But Cohen says coming to the office every day, lunching with business leaders and politicians, and reading several newspapers a day keeps him young. His motto, in life and business: “Be gracious as you can and respectful and appreciative of everyone. If you’re polite and nice and civil and openminded to people’s thoughts and ideas, it will lead to success for you and will be heartwarming to them.”

Oct 2019

50 min 9 sec