The 95 year old firm was built in the St.Paul trucking and warehouse business, but today primarily manages 18 million feet of commercial real estate around the country. As a means of “attaining higher yields through diversification,” the investment arm “has been focused predominantly on emerging Minnesota high tech and med-tech ventures for the past 11 years,” under Knapp’s watch.
“We typically invest $250 – $500k in ‘post-revenue’ businesses that are raising larger rounds, likely to achieve profitability near term and liquidity medium-term,” he says.
Interestingly, Knapp recently made a seed stage (<$100k) investment into local startup SyncMyAd after receiving a ‘cold’ email from from entrepreneur Nathan Reimnitz. Is this the new norm for one VC or the exception to the rule?
“We see the trend on the coasts is definitely going towards smaller investments earlier…and I virtually never respond to people I don’t know looking for funding. I’m not even sure why I did, but it’s a company that was founded on a shoestring and is the poster child for how you can create a tech business relatively inexpensively and get some good traction.”
Tune into the podcast to hear more about why he made the investment into SyncMyAd, his big picture investment philosophy, and other perspectives.
A new social commerce application for Facebook fan pages called OneWay Commerce is breaking into the SMB market this summer in collaboration with Intuit.
At the time, it was easy draw some correlations between OneWay Commerce’s model and the rise of ’09’s winner, now called 8thBridge; both operate in the arena of social commerce, specifically designed to enable
e-commerce F-commerce transactions via Facebook. In contrast, what Dwyer has created is a clear emphasis on empowering individuals, small and medium businesses with a quick, easy and affordable means of launching their own commerce app via their Facebook fan page.
“Our software is fully functional and we’ve got dozens of customers generating revenue,” says Dwyer, noting “the application is ideal for venders who offer a relatively small product line, even as little as one item.”
An unfolding narrative shows how two local women are taking the charge to rally local females within Minnesota’s technology industry.
Jacque Urick is the new Managing Director of Girls in Tech Minneapolis-St.Paul chapter. Girls in Tech was founded in San Francisco (2007) with the goal of empowering, educating and elevating status of women in technology fields, and aims especially to inspire young women to pursue entrepreneurial technology careers. The networking group has a strong emphasis on supporting the next generation of females and features quarterly meetups — the next one scheduled for June 29th at Moscow on the Hill.
Liz Tupper is Managing Director of She’s Geeky, an annual 2 day unConference exclusively focused around bringing together women in STEM fields. The inaugural Minnesota She’s Geeky took place last August and drew around 100 local women together around technology, lifestyle and business; the second local event is scheduled for September 23 & 24th at the Science Museum of Minnesota (details to follow).
A new Minnesota startup has launched an online community for vertically segmented, or Nitch, Business-to-business interactions.
The premise is that small business owners can create bids to find new vendors, band together to receive volume discounts on goods / services, and connect with similar businesses. The platform is built on five pillars — search, commerce, advertising, collaboration, applications — and is free for customers to use.
Created in response to a proprietors daily pains of “wearing too many hats”, the technology has been in development for nearly a year and quietly gone to market over the past few months. Co founder and CEO Michael Noble reports having both users and facilitating transactions while preparing to release third party developer API this summer.
“As a platform play, our goal is to carve out the B2B area of the web to solve immediate problems. Facebook is more of a place for individuals consumers, but where does mom and pop go to solve their immediate needs in one stop?” he posits.
In our 32nd Local Startup Spotlight podcast, Noble reflects about his east coast technology background, elaborates on the specifics of the new endeavor and shares what it’s been like to start something from scratch in Minnesota.
“With the way that technology works today, you need to find a way to build something on your own. Trying to go out and raise capital too early can be the death knell of your company. Ideas evolve over time, and in my experience, every company we’ve built has turned out vastly different than how we originally pictured it.” — Michael Noble, Nitch co founder and CEO.
Originally known as Mill City Auctions, the game plan was a transition into niche online auctions. In collaboration with lifelong business partner Andrew Mattila, Wasnick envisioned cultivating a user base through iterative development and brand building by offering the nascent service free-of-charge to nonprofits. While the sights were ultimately set on the larger and more diverse market for online auctions, a unique ‘second chance’ contest forced a refined focus exclusively on the nonprofit market.
Now re-branded/launched as WinningCause, the service replaces the traditional silent auction approach (pen and paper) with a real time web-based auction experience. Nonprofits are able to use WinningCause to raise more money at their fundraising auctions through preliminary social media exposure, seamless transition into the actual event, smart-phone compatibility, and most importantly – by retaining 100% of the price paid for a given item.
Two new investors are putting up $20m combined of their own money to fund Minnesota startups for no other reason than they see a real opportunity here and now.
“I’m looking at my desk and there are over 100 deals from every letter of the alphabet,” says Mark Marlow, President at Omphalos Venture Partners. “It’s a shame that we have to decline some great entrepreneurs only because we can’t single-handedly fund them all,” adds Omphalos Chairman Sean Casey.
The partners have parlayed winnings from Virtual Radiologic, “a typical startup success story,” Casey says modestly, having founded the venture out of his home in 2001 to provide technology outsourced radiology services. Marlow joined in 2003 as CFO and saw the company through a $70m IPO in 2007; at one point, the VRAD’s market cap peaked around $500m. The firm was eventually sold to Rhode Island-based private equity firm Providence Equity Partners for $294m in May last y
Rochester-based mobile developer DoApp has come a long way since the founding trio left the security of their corporate jobs three years ago this month.
“We had a very schizophrenic anti-MBA go to market,” says co founder and CEO Wade Beavers, speaking to inception. “When we got started, we did a variety of things thinking that one thing would take off — and in some dysfunctional way, they all did. It has created as much opportunity as challenge.”
The firm was one of the first 2500 companies approved to develop for Apple’s iPhone, having created three of the first 500 apps (there are over 350,000 today). “People will pay for flatulence,” Beavers says reflecting on the dubious honor of having the first app ever to be banned by Apple — Whoopie Cushion.
Collectively, DoApp’s mobile apps have experienced over 12 million downloads; today, the company has four flagship products and 11 full time employees:
Six months in the making, Project Skyway will choose up to 10 early-stage tech companies in SaaS & mobile to participate in a three-month long, mentor-driven startup acceleration based out of Minneapolis.
“Our emphasis is on building tech companies with long-term, sustainable value, ethical practices, mentorship, and strong networks,” Project Skyway founder Cem Erdem reiterates.
The program offers $6k in seed funding per founder (1-5), mentorship, co-working space (TBA), dedicated outsourced software development and connections-a-plenty. In exchange for participating in the program, companies give 6 – 9% of founders stock.
“My business philosophy is simple — human pain equals market demand,” says tech veteran and lifelong entrepreneur Chris Dykstra.
Chris has been using technology to solve real world problems for the past 15 years and is currently engaged in three distinct impact businesses:
Zanby is a white-label enterprise ‘group of groups’ social collaboration startup he co founded in 2005. With strong domestic and international reach, Zanby was used to facilitate discussions between private business, NGO’s, government and cotton collectives to curb Walmart’s child labor practices in Uzbekistan.
Warecorp is an onshore/offshore software consulting and development company he co founded in 2004 as a spinoff from a previous venture. One recent WareCorp project facilitated crowdsourcing funds to build an orphanage in Haiti.
The Uptake is a citizen-fueled, online video news gathering organization focused on government transparency (think CSPAN for the web). Started in 2007, he chairs the board of this nonprofit journalism upstart. “Better storytelling at the local level about business and more transparency about political processes can lead to prosperity,” he says.
Somewhere between their basements and the lake, entrepreneurs Matt Johnson and Mike Lauenstein have been camped out for the past two years — researching, designing and developing a hardware/software platform brought to market under the name Contour Innovations.
They’ve been deliberately hiding this whole time…until we scooped them out of natural habitat to bring you the story.
The duo invented the ‘CI Device’ — a portable tool that uses raw depth finder data correlated with sonar, GPS, weather conditions and other relevant information — to form an online centralized lake database repository. Recreational fishermen, fishing guides, research groups, and geo-spacial experts can generate precision maps of contoured water bodies, which in turn, form media that can be published to an online store. Ultimately, ‘CI Guides’ enables customers to purchase custom trips, track any species or find and follow a guides activity in real time. The product has been in private beta for the past year and official launch is expected within the next two months.
For Matt and Mike, the prospect of entrepreneurship was simply too big and exciting for them to ignore. They boldly stepped away from what would otherwise be an ideal situation for many: safe and secure employment in a high paying line of work.