Progress Minnesota Awards

PROGRESS MINNESOTA.  Appreciating the interesting, innovative and sometimes surprising…Progress Minnesota honors the efforts of individuals and organizations working in economic development, technology, entrepreneurship and workforce development. Finance & Commerce hosted their 7th annual event at the Metropolitan in Minneapolis.

Highlights for me included learning about Technovation [MN] which is encouraging middle school and high school to dream, design, code and pitch mobile apps as well as meeting the team from PillsburyUnited Communities.  They are providing interconnected programs fostering the resilience and self-sufficiency of individuals, families and community.  They do this through their eight social enterprises.  North Market, a community hub, wellness center and grocery store, was showcased at the event.
Progress Minnesota 2018 Honorees included:
  • Chad Gillard and Zoie Glass from Midwest Pantry
  • Lea Hargett from Thor Construction
  • Diane Paterson from Twin Cities Metro Small Business Development Center, LegalCORPS
  • Chris Webley, New Rules
  • Duluth Cargo Connect
  • IPS Solar
  • McKnight Foundation
  • MD Biosciences Inc.
  • Osborn 370
  • Pillsbury United Communities
  • Autonomous Tractor Corp.
  • Digi International
  • Monaco Air Duluth
  • Reeher
  • Sezzle
  • Skywater Tedhnology Foundry Inc.
  • Hennepin County
  • MN Department of Labor & Industry Apprenticeship Program
  • MN Diversified Industries
  • Technovation [MN]
  • Thor Cos.
  • University of Minnesota Northside Job Creation Team

For more photos of the event, see the gallery.

Managing Through The Talent Crunch

MANAGING THROUGH THE TALENT CRUNCH.  This was the theme of Greater MSP’s Investor Meeting held at the Hilton Minneapolis.  Richard David, CEO of U.S. Bank kicked off the event by talking about the need to be bolder in order to compete.  He also introduced Greater MSP’s version 2.0 initiatives to create a remarkable future for the region.

Key initiatives focused on developing strategies to both attract and retain talent and included key partnerships with the following organizations: Greater Metropolitan Workforce Council, Minnesota Food & Agriculture Leadership Initiative and Forge North.  Performance measurements included building the network, supporting employers, generating leads and raising visibility.

People were identified as a critical key asset.  Awareness of the talent and Minnesota advantages was noted as a concern.  Attraction and retention were highlighted as key goals.  The panel included key HR leaders from U.S. Bank, Medtronic and Salo.  They emphasized the need to grow existing talent by reinvesting in them and developing access to opportunities.

A couple of areas I’d like to see expounded on in future meetings include regional strategies related to global competition, cluster development and strengthening middle market opportunities.


More photos of the event are in the Gallery.

China Innovation Efforts

CHINA INNOVATION EFFORTS.  As I continue to document global strategy and innovation, I was thrilled to connect with a leading innovation organization in Shanghai to discuss the latest challenges and trends. Discussions included insights into how corporations are investing in innovation, how there are large numbers of new startups each day, how students are learning, how the levels of risk tolerance and creativity impact innovation decisions, and what the IP landscape looks like in China. This conversation has paved the pathway for upcoming introductions to industry startup leaders and the director of innovation at a large semiconductor manufacturing company.

Here are a few key learnings:

  • Corporate innovation typically begins in small pilots.  One large multi-national company developed its emerging market innovation center a few years back. They are running idea competitions about once each year. Ideas are driven from the open innovation center. Challenges continue to be risk adversity, resources and funding.   Another organization typically runs 4-6 teams of startups through its 14-week program twice per year. As one of its products has successfully launched, it will be funded for years to come.  Corporate innovation challenges are many and include how to enable intrapreneurs to feel safe to innovate as many still prefer the security of a consistent paycheck.
  • The startup community is growing. It has been estimated that there are about 1,200 new business registrations per day, many of them startups.  The startup support network is growing as well.  Incubators such as Startup Grind provide an online and offline network to “help fuel innovation, economic growth and prosperity at the local level.”  Discussions also centered around the concepts of structure, program and people.  Specifically, they are focused on the importance of getting the right, committed people on the team and as mentors.  Innovation centers in China are evolving. Initially they were run by civil servants and sponsored by the government.  Some multi-nationals have recently secured space and/or they have become co-working spaces.
  • Asian markets are growing large but there is a very different innovation culture than in the US. There is no lack of creativity but students moving into the workforce often find it difficult to apply concepts as education is focused on technical aspects and exercise repetition. In addition, reward systems are often based on individual depth of knowledge and not based on initiative.
  • Companies are beginning to look outward and while typically very risk adverse, they are realizing that doing nothing is risky, too.  If the last century was defined by vertical industries, the next century will likely be defined by the horizontal conglomerates such as Alibaba and new capabilities will be needed to compete. Specifically, companies that make widgets are needing to make the shift to become lean companies that can constantly adapt and create new markets.  One large home appliance company prefers not to develop its technology in-house and instead become an aggregator, creating a niche in its specific area.
  • The IP landscape was described as almost non-existent. It was not identified as a barrier to entry as in some other countries.  It was noted that it was as if there is some acceptance that someone could create a knock off and that companies need to seek rapid innovation and create evolved business models to compete.


Celebrating International Women’s Day

BRAVE, NOT PERFECT.   If I could only choose one thing to take away from this women’s leadership conference, it would be Kristi Hemmer’s message of empowerment to be “brave, not perfect.”  This really resonated with me.  I appreciated her description of the many times she chose the option that looked perfect on paper and then later realized she was miserable.  Once she started choosing the “brave” option, the one that was right for her, she had a good life.  She describes herself as “unapologetically me” and left us with the question…”What is “perfect” stopping you from doing today?”

This all-day leadership conference was held at the Millennium Hotel in Minneapolis and sponsored by ACG Minnesota, MNCREW and Corvus North.  It was targeted toward women leaders and aspiring leaders in commercial real estate, mergers & acquisitions, law, corporate finance, and nonprofit leadership. This first annual event was sold out.

The event began with inspiring talks by these women, each leaving the audience with thought-provoking questions:

  • Kristin Hemmer, Founder/President of AWEinc
    • What is perfect stopping you from doing today?
  • Amalia Moreno-Damgaard, Founder/CEO of Amalia LLC &
    • What are you doing to fulfill your dream?
  • Jennifer Smith, CEO and President of Innovative Solutions
    • Are you evaluating your decisions through your core value lens?
  • Sue Hawks, Best Selling Author
    • Are you using both your intellect and intuition to make decisions?

Keynote speakers included Diana Pierce and Crystal Washington.  Roundtable breakout sessions focused on negotiating for what you want, women in the boardroom and unlearning to learn.  On an individual level, be prepared and know your value were key themes.  Boards have precious few seats; therefore, they need to make sure that there is both a cultural and content fit.  For companies, boards are making strategic decisions and need board members that have advanced thinking, can work well with others, and can advance initiatives.

The day provided engaging and thought-provoking speakers, interactive workshops, and networking opportunities.  Special thanks to Pam Moret, Director/Chair of the Bush Foundation and Jeanne Crain, President and CEO of Bremer Financial Corporation for the opportunity to meet and connect further on a number of strategic topics including boards and innovation.

For more photos from this event, please see the Gallery.

The BOLD Awards

THE BOLD AWARDS celebrate industry’s boldest bets, daring strategies, innovative approaches, and collaborative leaders and teams.  This event recognized finalists and winners for their imagination and extraordinary efforts to grow Minnesota.

This was a gala celebration where inspiring stories were shared.  All of the organizations vying for the title of BOLDEST OF THE BOLD were here because they had created new business models, partnerships or services.  The energy in the room was palpable as the onsite voting results of the 300 in attendance were tallied.

The 2018 BOLD Award finalists and winners by category were:


  • Bunker Labs Minneapolis
  • Cookie Cart
  • Cornerstone (winner!)

Early Stage

  • Autonomous Tractor Corporation (winner!)
  • Foreverence
  • Roosevelt Energy

Corporate Small

  • Duke Cannon Supply Co.
  • HED Cycling Products (winner!)
  • Inspire Medical Systems

Middle Market

  • Bite Squad
  • Perforce Software
  • Ralco Agriculture (winner!)

Corporate Large

  • Kraus-Anderson
  • Restaurant Technologies (winner!)

The 6th annual BOLD Awards were hosted by ACG Minnesota and held at the Muse Event Center in Minneapolis.  Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) has chapters worldwide representing 14,500 members.  ACG serves 90,000 investors owners, executives, lenders and advisors to growing middle-market companies.  ACG’s mission is to drive middle-market growth.  Elements Group is a proud member of ACG.






Microsoft Technology Center


How are companies currently exploring the IoT space? How are companies determining how to solve business problems for their customers with IoT? I took a tour of Microsoft’s Technology Center in Edina and learned how companies are developing new products in the IoT space.
Microsoft’s Technology Center, including the Maker Space, Hackathon Space, and state of the art Production Studio was interesting.  I also met Jon Coons and listened as he talked about how companies are successfully developing IoT products that customers want.  He is an IoT Global Black Belt at Microsoft.  He has worked in many different industries and as a a deep expertise in selling, collaboration, architecting and developing M2M and IoT from early stage concepts to enterprise scale deployments.
His presentation included the following topics:
  1. What is IoT
  2. Current IoT products
  3. Where is IoT going
  4. Impact of IoT on business
  5. How IoT products create value for people


Full Stack



FULL STACK EVENT. The St. Paul Innovation Cabinet was created by Mayor Chris Colman and Council Member Chris Tolbert in an effort to identify ways to expand job and business growth around the technology and innovation sectors in Saint Paul. According to the website, innovation companies are critical because their jobs do not just benefit individual employees, they benefit all of Saint Paul. Every innovation job is associated with the creation of three to four spin-off jobs in other sectors. No other industry has such a large benefit to the community. Full Stack Saint Paul is public/private sector collaboration, co-led by the City of Saint Paul and the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, that provides a full range of services to help tech and innovation sector businesses startup and scaleup in Saint Paul.  The initial effort is to implement the Full Stack Saint Paul Action Plan.  I attended the Full Stack event to learn more about the strategies that are being implemented to grow the vibrant innovation culture in Saint Paul and network with some of the brightest minds in tech and innovation in the region.


Competitive Strategies, Ecosystem Engagement, Capability Development, Decision Support