In just a few short weeks, a new group of Minnesota Startup Awards winners will be handed trophy paddles, officially etching their names in the annals of Minnesota startup history. As the clock ticks down to that moment, however, we at tech.mn along with Twin Cities Startup Week thought it would be fun to travel back in time and have a short chat with the 2019 winners about their experience.

Check out what last year’s winners had to say about the awards, their year, and the future of their business. And, of course, be sure to vote for the Minnesota Startup Awards 2020 and mark this year’s virtual ceremony on your calendar.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

10K Lakes Award

Winner: Live.Give.Save

 

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Susan Langer — Founder & CEO

From first learning about your nomination to grabbing the paddle for the first time, briefly take us through your Minnesota Startup Awards experience last year.

[It’s] hard to remember given that so much has happened since then. It was the first year [there was] a Greater MN/10K Lakes category. We were delighted to be nominated for two divisions — the 10K Lakes Award and the Impact Award. We rallied our advocates and garnered a lot of votes. I almost didn’t attend, because I sincerely did not expect to win. At that time, we seemed to always be the bridesmaid but never the bride. So, I was shocked and ecstatic when our name was called. I wish I would have thought to acknowledge more people. It just goes to show — always be prepared!

I also remember thinking that the event was extremely well organized. The Science Museum was a terrific event venue, offering different locations throughout the evening.

We also received substantial post-event media exposure from a podcast interview with tech.mn, to articles published in Post Bulletin, MinneInno and NextAvenue (of NPR). We were also featured in an article by startup blogger, Graeme Thickins.

What’s the thing you remember most about the MSA ’19 experience? What was the highlight?

Without a doubt, it was hearing our company name called as the winner of our category. I totally did not expect it.

Give us a snapshot of the year for your business. Ups and downs, wins and losses… whatever you’re comfortable sharing, we’d love to hear.

Despite all the challenges within 2020, it has been a banner year for us. [We:] Selected 1 of the first 20 startups to receive an innovation grant from the State of MN through Launch MN, which was exactly when COVID-19 hit; Removed our app — spave — from the App Store and used the grant money to improve our UI design and enhance the UX; Renegotiated payments with our vendors; Raised $75,000 to pay-off debt and match grant funds; Recruited three former senior leaders from local giants Allianz, Periscope and UnitedHealth; Group to join our leadership team; Amped up our bench by bringing on skilled technicians to strengthen our product development, testing and overall quality; Tapped the skills of six rockstar interns from regional higher ed through our engagement with E1 Collaboration in SE MN; Poised to raise our first equity round this month

Do you have any advice for this year’s group of MSA winners?

Go for it. Rally your supporters to vote for you. Promote your nomination hard [by] leveraging social media. Prepare an acceptance speech thanking your team, advisors, category sponsor and investors.

Lastly, what can we expect from your business in the near future? Anything on the horizon you’d like people to know about?

We will be releasing spave 2.0 in both the App Store and Google Play by the end of the year.

Listen to Susan on The tech.mn Podcast!

Emerging Startup Award

Winner: BetterYou

 

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Hayley Kraft — Marketing Associate

From first learning about your nomination to grabbing the paddle for the first time, briefly take us through your Minnesota Startup Awards experience last year.

It was a whirlwind and great experience. Being in the earliest stages of the company last year, TCSW was so influential in bringing our team together and building BetterYou. 

What was the highlight?

The team was there in their BetterYou purple chatting with the startup community. When we won the paddle, we took to one of the canoes for a picture. Sharing that moment with the community and the team is definitely one we’ll remember.

Give us a snapshot of the year for your business.

When the pandemic hit, schools and organizations found it even more imperative to implement a wellness program to engage their students/employees and keep them healthy. BetterYou added 17 customers since the pandemic (growing to 40 total customers), for an increase of 73 percent. We switched to virtual without missing a beat, launched a brand-new product and helped over 2,000 college students adjust their habits for the better during the lockdown.

Do you have any advice for this year’s group of MSA winners?

Building a company is hard. So often we’re already looking at the next mountain the moment we finish climbing the one we’re on. Take a moment to stop and breathe it in. Enjoy what you and the team accomplished this year!

Anything on the horizon you’d like people to know about?

We’re constantly in the process of bettering our product and providing valuable health content to users and prospective customers. Our team is working hard to continue the growth we’ve seen through the rest of 2020 and beyond.

Listen to Sean Higgins, Founder of BetterYou, on The tech.mn Podcast!

Impact Award

Winner: Coffee&Closers, Closers Media

 

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Mickeli Bedore — Co-Founder & Chief Revenue Officer

From first learning about your nomination to grabbing the paddle for the first time, briefly take us through your Minnesota Startup Awards experience last year.

Being nominated for the Impact Award was one of our long shot goals when we launched Coffee&Closers way back when. The reason is when I started my agency (Bedore Business Group), the concept of fractional VP of Sales work as well as WHAT sales people even were to startups was foreign.

Everyone in the tech space knew they needed paying customers, but how to get them didn’t come naturally. However, they didn’t trust sales for some reason. We made it our mission to bridge the two communities. Thus we launched a podcast (Coffee&Closers) in hopes of creating a safe space where all could gather and learn about what sales actually is — serving and helping — and what it does for
startups — helps them be self-sufficient.

Being nominated last year was that vision coming to fruition. Winning was surreal.

What was the highlight?

Being able to share this incredible honor with my wife. She launched Coffee&Closers alongside me three years ago while an architect and I was full time running BeBG. Without her, there is NO way we would have built what we built. It was so cool to have her and my mom there to meet all of our “super cool” (my mom’s words) startup friends.

She was BLOWN away with what this community has built here.

Give us a snapshot of the year for your business.

It has been a crazy ride. We were approached shortly after TCSW to sell Coffee&Closers to a capital group, which was very hard to say no to.

We did [say no] and decided the reason we even considered is that we need help on the operational/etc. side. So, we brought in a partner and creative dream team to help take this little podcast to the next level. We achieved that in March by selling out our first of many to come theater shows. It was epic… then COVID-19 hit one week later and nuked that dream.

I was ready to give up, as I was so focused on the size and spectacle of the show, [but] our team saw what was really there — a community and resources (top sales talent) that nobody has access to.

So, while I took a sabbatical, they designed and built a platform that is an on-demand Closers platform that connects top performing sales (prospecting and closing) talent with companies/founders/teams on a half to full hour basis.

It’s incredible and something I would have never thought to build. To celebrate the last 12 months, we are launching the new site/platform and show — Cocktails&Closers — during TCSW 2020.

Do you have any advice for this year’s group of MSA winners?

When you accept, realize this is not a celebration of what you have achieved this past year; it is validation that this community values what you do and is expecting you to do it bigger and better from this moment forward.

Anything on the horizon you’d like people to know about?

Funny you should ask 😉 This year, during TCSW, we are “officially” announcing the transformation from Coffee&Closers to Closers Media. This is a big change for us as we now have multiple shows we are producing for ourselves (Coffee&Closers, Cocktails&Closers, more to come) and shows for others.

We have also in tandem launched an on-demand Closers platform that connects top performing sales (prospecting + closing) talent with companies/founders/teams on a half to full hour basis. It’s a game changer for not only the sales community but also for small to mid-sized companies that need explosive revenue growth to stay alive.

Inclusive Evolution Award

Winner: Lunar Startups

 

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Danielle Steer — Managing Director

From first learning about your nomination to grabbing the paddle for the first time, briefly take us through your Minnesota Startup Awards experience last year.

When we were first nominated, we were honored to be shoulder to shoulder with the excellence represented in the nominees. The group represented a broad range of change agents making big impact in our ecosystem and beyond. Then, at the event, talk about a room full of social capital! We were so happy to see so many friendly faces, and even more, so many new builders, dreamers, does, and fans. It was so fun!

What was the highlight?

When all the winners were on stage together for the photo! What a crew!

Give us a snapshot of the year for your business.

COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd shadow much of the last year. Our founders and team had to find opportunity and hope in the midst of crisis and grief. Yet, every day, we saw the resilience and grit of our founders demonstrated as they supported their communities, cared for children, pivoted companies, and worked to serve their customers. They adapted quickly as we moved the Lunar Accelerator to a virtual setting, showed up weekly for programming and connection, and explored new collaborations across unlikely allies. The highs and lows of the last seven months have been less high and low thanks to the immense support of our community and founders.

Do you have any advice for this year’s group of MSA winners?

Founder health directly impacts startup health. Rest, hydrate, and gather your people so that both you and your company can endure the ups and downs! 

Anything on the horizon you’d like people to know about?

At Lunar, we believe the best way to close this wealth gap is through inclusive entrepreneurship. As the only accelerator in the Twin Cities supporting the growth of tech-enabled, high-potential startups led by women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ founders, we’re looking to expand our impact. We have a proven track record of successful programming deployment and we are ready to scale both our programs. Stay tuned as we get ready for our best year yet.

Listen to Danielle on The tech.mn Podcast!

Operational Excellence Award

Winner: Dispatch

 

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Andrew Leone — CEO

From first learning about your nomination to grabbing the paddle for the first time, briefly take us through your Minnesota Startup Awards experience last year.

First of all, we were honored to have been nominated alongside a ton of phenomenal Minnesota companies. Being able to hear their stories and approaches to success at the awards ceremony was a wonderful experience for our whole team. Being a part of the Minnesota startup community has been huge in our success at Dispatch and continuing to grow alongside the community has been incredibly important to Dispatch and our culture.

What was the highlight?

The highlight of the experience was the way the event was hosted as being inclusive of all different types of businesses and sizes and hearing different journeys. Having our Senior Leadership team and HR team all attend together was pretty special for us too!

Give us a snapshot of the year for your business.

This year we have seen incredible growth at Dispatch. We had to shift our approach at the start of the pandemic, but as an essential business, we were able to support our customers and drivers across the country in a whole new way. Now with our Series B round of funding complete, this investment will help us to accelerate market expansion and double our product and engineering teams. Big things are coming from the Dispatch team!

Do you have any advice for this year’s group of MSA winners?

Invest in your people. At Dispatch, our core values and culture are a fundamental part of our success. We live and lead through our five core values and we strive to create an environment that’s positive, inclusive, and promotes personal and professional growth for all team members.

Anything on the horizon you’d like people to know about?

This fall we are launching a new service expansion that gives customers the ability to place multiple orders and fulfill their route-based delivery needs. For drivers, they can plan their day with guaranteed work and see more orders on the Dispatch network. Stay tuned!

Voyageur Award

Winner: Kipsu

 

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Chris Smith — CEO & Co-Founder

From first learning about your nomination to grabbing the paddle for the first time, briefly take us through your Minnesota Startup Awards experience last year.

Last year, we were incredibly proud to be nominated for the Voyager and Operational Excellence categories and humbled to take home the Voyager Award, recognizing us as a top bootstrapped organization. Kipsu’s “north star” is that we are here to make it possible for brands to build genuine relationships with customers at scale. In a world of clunky chatbots and impersonal mass-marketing, genuine connection resonates most with customers.

Going to different TCSW events is always an incredible experience for me. I’m constantly reminded why we set up shop in Minneapolis. There’s a hugely diverse and accomplished talent pool here, very high standards of living, and a thriving business community. I was most proud of being able to publicly recognize our team for their tireless commitment to our customer partners.

What was the highlight?

At Kipsu, we’ve always had a maniacal focus on building an inclusive, innovative, and transparent company culture where we celebrate our team members and nurture tomorrow’s business leaders. My favorite highlight of the entire experience was attending a panel discussion we hosted with several of our early team members. The panel, “7-70” reminded me of how much we’ve grown in a short period of time. Starting 2020 with almost 70 team members, we feel just as “scrappy” as we did when there were seven of us crammed into a small office.

Give us a snapshot of the year for your business.

2020 has turned the world upside down in so many ways. Our approach to building customer-partner relationships really shined this year. We view our customers as partners (which is why we have a Customer Partnership Team, not a “sales” team) and know that we succeed and fail together. When the pandemic started, we immediately worked with our partners to offer relief, and our customer partners have overwhelmingly decided to stick with Kipsu throughout.

The biggest win this year for me has been being able to navigate a once-in-a-lifetime crisis for the market segments we serve-like hospitality. Our bootstrapped approach to smart growth has saved us from taking drastic measures like mass layoffs that seem so common in 2020. 

Do you have any advice for this year’s group of MSA winners?

Remember your “why.”
Build relationships with your customers.
Elevate your team.

Something I encourage my team to always remember is the “why” behind everything we do. Kipsu exists to foster relationships between brands and customers in a human way. Our mission to elevate service professionals to the center of the guest experience and that drives everything we do. To this year’s award winners: I ask you to not lose sight of your “why” in everything you do. Remember that your customers are partners. Cherish and value those relationships, because you succeed together. Give your team space and trust to grow within your business. Encourage them to “think like CEOs” and consider the long game in everything they do. These three things are a recipe for success.

Anything on the horizon you’d like people to know about?

The pandemic has turned so many industries upside down, and the effects will be long-lasting. We are looking forward to evolving our solution hand-in-hand with our customers to keep delivering better experiences for them and their customers. The “new normal” of contactless communications in a post-pandemic world is presenting an opportunity for us to form new relationships in new verticals we haven’t previously explored. More than anything, I look forward to continuing to expand our team in Minneapolis and elevating the service of our partners in industries old and new.

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About Twin Cities Startup Week

Twin Cities Startup Week plays host to 19,000+ attendees, 200+ events, hundreds of speakers, pitches, demos + more. This year, the event is showcasing the best from the Startup Capital of the North September 7-25, 2020!

Browse the full schedule of events.

And listen to Casey Shultz, Executive Director of BETA, talk all things TCSW on The tech.mn Podcast!