The path forward in Minnesota for nurturing emerging technologies.

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Solid State: Minnesota’s High Tech History | Seagate

St. Paul-based Engineering Research Associates helped create the modern computer industry after WWII. It preceded an explosion of innovative companies in Minnesota. Their impact around the world provided our solid economic foundation after World War II.

Much of the work done here was highly classified during the Cold War, so no one knew about it. Today, most Minnesotans look to Silicon Valley as the only home of innovation and are blissfully ignorant that the Bay Area was merely building basic components when our state was the epicenter of high tech.

Local organizations want to correct this perception. The Lawshe Memorial Museum (part of the Dakota County Historical Society) and the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota are repositories of the history of computer technology in Minnesota. Recently, the Minnesota High Tech Association, in alliance with Twin Cities Public Television, released a one-hour documentary that chronicles the history of Minnesota’s computer industry. It highlights Minnesota’s leading role in the industry and its status as the birthplace of the high-speed, large-scale electronic digital computer. …

Refashioning the fashion industry.

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The Old Testament says you can’t put new wine into old bottles “else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out.” Entrepreneurs, using new technologies and contemporary mores, are bottling new wine for longstanding old concepts.

Dick Ward is a serial entrepreneur selling corporate apparel branded with a logo or slogan. It is big business. Professional Products Association International, a trade group, estimates annual sales at $25 billion.

In 1987, when Ward started, the industry was dominated by salespeople driving around with big catalogs and samples in racks. While the promotional products industry is notoriously known for cheap “trinkets and trash,” he made his mark as a middleman selling high-brand products from Nike, Columbia, and Brooks Brothers to the logo sector. …

Through measuring safety and satisfaction.

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Source: Twin City Business Magazine

A Gallup report shows a staggering 67 percent of employees are “not engaged” in their jobs and 18 percent are “actively disengaged,” perhaps having lost their drive by being ignored. An emerging principle is that a community of engaged workers who provide constant real-time information and ideas for management to actively implement is an underused source for organizational improvement.

Traditional structure in an organization is based on supervision, compliance, process adherence, and, in some cases, distrust. Leaders connect to workers in multiple ways but do not engage them. To be engaged, workers need to feel safe, motivated, and plugged in. They want to be heard and not simply told what to do. A long lag between observation and remediation is a turnoff. …

Boka’s modern oral care products are the next iteration of a family’s commitment.

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Bernard of Chartres, a French philosopher, originated the saying that Sir Isaac Newton popularized when he wrote, “If I have seen further, it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Many entrepreneurs are building on the foundation of a previously successful company. They augment the existing business with emerging opportunities and create a dynamic new enterprise.

James Hagen, after graduating from the University of Michigan, was working at a hedge fund in Connecticut. His parents, Jim, an accountant, and Debbie, a dental hygienist, started a dental supply catalog business, American Dental Accessories, in 1994. His grandfather owned Hagen Imports, a glove and coat importer. …

A needed form of early-stage capital emerges for charitable startups.

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Jeff Ochs

As companies age and shed employees, the continuing success of the economy depends on the constant development of new businesses. The startup support system mirrors taking healthy seedlings and growing them into fruit-bearing trees. However, no organized nurseries exist to sprout those healthy seedlings. Do we want to depend only on accidental sprouts for our economic orchard?

In any meeting of a group of entrepreneurs, the most common lament is lack of early-stage capital. There are no real alternatives to provide even nominal funding at the early stage. Bank loans are out, as there are no hard assets to collateralize. Moreover, startups are not suitable for, nor are they seeking, venture capital because they are frustrated with their crushing requirements of fast growth. Angel investors have transitioned to later and later stages. Once a company reaches MVP (minimum viable product), then some angel groups will at least consider them. Before that — nothing, just your bootstraps! …

Entrepreneur fosters culture to achieve strategy.

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Culture is often misunderstood and discounted as a touchy-feely component that is not as important as hard and solid strategy. But Peter Drucker, the father of modern management practice, is credited with saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Edgar Schein, MIT professor emeritus who has done groundbreaking work on organizational culture, describes culture as the rules, perceptions, language, history, and the like that set the values and beliefs of an organization. Workplace culture decides the way individuals interact with each other and behave with people outside the company. …

Business-model disruption can be planned for.

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Joseph Aloïs Schumpeter, the patron saint of entrepreneurs, describes in Creative Destruction the messy way free markets deliver progress. He argued that entrepreneurs introduce innovations by creating new combinations using technology or a new method of doing business that often ends up destroying existing businesses, products, and careers. This is the price of progress.

When was the last time you bought anything with cash? Cash was dethroned by checks as a payment form for our daily needs. While it was convenient for the consumer, it was a pain for those who received them.

Elloyd Hauser founded a company in 1982 to offer check processing and depository services to organizations that received high volumes of low-dollar checks. The company continued to evolve and added solutions to payment services, and changed its name to Solutran Inc. …

The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship

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Non-profit organizations ordinarily provide for those public needs that are passed over by traditional for-profit businesses. But, they need continuing external donations to sustain themselves. An organization model was contemplated in the 1970s, in the UK, that could support their own operation and also be empowered to maximize their chosen societal impact.

Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate coined the term “social enterprise” to describe his establishment, Grameen Bank, that provides micro-loans, to the rural poor, with the goal of the elimination of poverty. Since then such organizations, and the designation, have mushroomed, throughout the world.

A social enterprise’s main purpose is to promote and make collective change, while supporting themselves over the long term, without dependence on philanthropy. Many social enterprises are non-profits with a conventional structure like a co-operative or a charity organization. However, there are also for-profit social enterprises that self-support themselves through selling, sourcing, and/or sharing. Many states have enacted a new legal form called a Public Benefit Corporation that put their mission equal to profits. …

Focus is on the Saleable and not the Possible

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ATC Corp.

Driverless driving is here. Tesla claims its cars are fully self-driving at a safety level greater than with a human driver. Trucks with only a human monitor on board are already hauling refrigerators, along I-10 from Texas to California.

History shows that what happens in the automotive industry ultimately finds its way into farm equipment. Scott Shearer of Ohio State says, “If you can manage the liability of self-driving vehicles in downtown Los Angeles, we can probably learn to manage the liability in the middle of a cornfield in Nebraska.” Farmers’ razor-thin margins make an autonomous tractor a compelling proposition.

Kraig Schulz and Terry Anderson co-founded Autonomous Tractor Corp (ATC) in 2012, driven by the vision that one day the company will be the “Tesla for tractors.” Schulz spent more than 15 years consulting with bioscience companies on commercialization. Anderson has extensive automation experience, having founded seven successful technology companies, including Ancor Communications, which he sold to QLogic for $1.9 …

This is not circular logic — it is a profound truth!

Once, you an entrepreneur, get hold of an idea, it is hard for you to focus on the numerous risk factors that accompany it. Often you are raring to go, and your idea consumes all your thoughts. You have full confidence that you can pull it off. You end up paying most of the attention to things that you are very good at and therefore already have a lower level of risk.

Unfortunately, this also means that you have ignored many things that you are either unaware of or not good at. So you ignore them. …


Dr. Rajiv Tandon

Advocate for the future of entrepreneurship in Minnesota. Facilitates peer groups and runs programs for propelling ideas into ventures

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