Graeme Thickins on Tech

Reflections & analysis about innovation, technology & startups, with a focus on Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes

Category: Startups (page 1 of 43)

gBETA Announces Minneapolis Spring 2018 Cohort

gBETA demo night photo

gBETA, a program of the nationally ranked gener8tor accelerator, today announced the seven startups that were selected for gBETA logoits gBETA Minneapolis Spring 2018 cohort.

“gBETA works with some of the best and brightest companies in the community to help them achieve their goals and be successful in the long term,” said Eric Martell, managing Eric Martelldirector of gener8tor Minnesota. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to work with seven impressive Twin Cities-based companies for the next seven weeks. Building successful companies is only possible with the support of the larger community, and we’re grateful to our mentors and supporters to be able to provide this service.”

The seven companies selected for the Spring 2018 Minnesota gBETA program are as follows, in alphabetical order:

enVerde repurposes carbon-containing waste into clean, sustainable energy and chemicals. Municipalities, commercial, and industrial organizations can decrease their operating expenses by significantly reducing their waste streams and creating clean fuels and heat they can use locally and immediately. enVerde’s patented gasification technology was built by a team with more than 180 combined years of cleantech experience. enVerde’s technology is based on intellectual property from the University of Minnesota.

MANBOAT increases net tuition revenue and student success by optimizing admission and scholarship decisions. MANBOAT’s subscription-based service provides individualized student recommendations using patent-pending machine learning algorithms. MANBOAT launched in January 2018 and expects to reach $300K in annual recurring revenue by the end of the year.

Spooky Action builds UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that fly forever. Using a proprietary ground-to-air tethered power system, Spooky Action specializes in custom aerial intelligence solutions for applications where drones are too underpowered and helicopters are too cumbersome. Spooky Action’s UAVs were field tested, providing air support to anti-poaching teams in South Africa.

Studioso modernizes music education by connecting students to teachers through its mobile app. Studioso serves both private and institutional music educators and works for all instruments. Studioso’s beta has more than 70 institutional preorders, 1500 Twitter followers, and 3 beta testing partners.

Take 12 is a crowdfunding service that allows friends and family to relieve the financial stress of unpaid maternity leave for working mothers by giving financial gifts in lieu of a traditional baby registry. Take 12 also offers working moms planning resources and community support. In its first year, Take 12 helped 493 mothers navigate their maternity leave experience and helped raise $10,654.00 in financial gifts for new moms.

WorkOutLoud hosts online communities connecting enterprise companies to their customers. WorkOutLoud enables community-wide collaboration, resulting in an improved customer experience. WorkOutLoud has lifetime revenue of $474K over the past 26 months, with 31% growth from 2016 to 2017.

Y Translator provides the only complete translation services for YouTube videos. More than two-thirds of YouTube viewers – one billion – don’t speak English, and content creators are missing out on opportunities to triple their influence and revenue. Y Translator launched its website on January 22, 2018 and closed its first two translations in its inaugural week.

About gBETA

gBETA is a program of nationally ranked startup accelerator gener8tor. gBETA is a free accelerator for early-stage companies with local roots. Each program is capped at five teams, and requires no fees and no equity. gBETA currently operates in six locations: Beloit, Detroit, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Northeast Wisconsin. gBETA graduates have collectively raised more than $5.5M since 2015, and 50% have either gone on to participate in a full-time, equity-based accelerator or raised at least $50,000 in seed financing. More statistics here.

Selected companies receive:
• Access to a community of entrepreneurs including their fellow cohort members, as well as gener8tor and gBETA alumni.
• A formal relationship with at least 2-3 mentors with relevant expertise.
• Introductions to the gener8tor network of successful entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, and technologists.
• Individualized coaching and mentorship from the experienced gener8tor team.
• Office space.
• $1M+ in deals and perks from vendors like SoftLayer, Rackspace, Amazon, PayPal, Zendesk, and Microsoft.

More information here.

About gener8tor

gener8tor is a nationally ranked accelerator that invests in high-growth startups. In addition to its gBETA program, three times a year it conducts 12-week accelerator programs in Milwaukee, Madison, and Minneapolis, in which it invests up to $140K in each of five startups who receive a concierge experience during these programs. gener8tor supports the growth of these startups through its network of experienced mentors, technologists, corporate partners, angel investors, and venture capitalists. The 65 gener8tor alumni have cumulatively raised more than $120M in follow-on financing. Of these, 57% have raised more than $1M or have been acquired. gener8tor invests in high-growth startups, including software, IT, web, SaaS, life science, medtech, ecommerce, and hardware. gener8tor is a proud member of the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) and is sponsored by American Family Insurance. It is a GOLD-tier accelerator in the U.S. as ranked by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project. More information here.


Disclosure: I’m a mentor for gener8tor Minnesota and gBETA  🙂

So, What’s Happening in Bitcoin and Blockchain in Minnesota?

Bitcoin Minnesota graphicHave you been wondering what might be going on in our state in the burgeoning area of bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and blockchain? Well, I have, too! Luckily I met a guy recently who filled me in — bigtime. He reached out to me on LinkedIn, and I was glad he did. His name is Stephen Gornick and, just a couple of months ago, he relocated back here to his home state from California. He’s an accomplished techie, and he’s been involved in this space for several years. I’m pretty sure I haven’t met anyone with more knowledge about this field than Stephen. So, I was delighted to learn more from him about all the startups, projects, meetups, and more already happening, right here in our state. The amount of activity shocked me! It’s a list he compiled from research he did upon returning here, as a way to get connected back into our tech community.  Stephen also has set up a Twitter account called @MinnFinTech — so, follow him there! He was nice enough to allow me to republish his great list here:

A List of Bitcoin and Blockchain-Related Organizations and Projects in Minnesota

by Stephen Gornick (LinkedIn)
  • Silicon Prairie Online/SPPX — a MNvest equity and debt-based crowdfunding portal
  • BanQu — Economic identities for the unbanked (ICO forthcoming)
  • Vault Logic — Digital Currency Payment Kiosk Network & ATMs (Coming Fall 2017)
  • Scryp — Currency of cooperation (Coming soon)
  • CBT Success — Pay For Success (aka Social Impact Bond), on the blockchain (Coming soon)
  • Nomics —Yahoo Finance for Crypto (Coming soon)
  • SSAYE (ICO forthcoming)
  • ParaShoot — Video platform (ICO forthcoming)
  • Bitkota, LLC — Lawyer on all things crypto (exchanges, ICOs, & more)
  • Sawtooth Lake Core —A Hyperledger blockchain project that makes use of a trusted execution environment
  • CTI Consulting — Buy and Sell Bitcoin locally with cash
  • CoCreateX — Built a Blockchain-based Thank You app and community
  • Watch My Bit — Video platform, though currently in hibernation
  • Strength In Numbers Foundation’s 2Give Coin — Social tipping platform

Events / Meetups / Groups / Meeting Spaces

Organizations or projects not based in Minnesota but have a presence here

List composed/curated by Stephen Gornick.

Stephen adds: “This is certainly a work-in-progress. Any additions, corrections, clarifications, or any other submissions are welcome. Please submit to me via  e-mail or via mention to @MinnFinTech on Twitter.”


As Stephen updates me with any further information, I will add it to this blog post. Meantime, if you’re interested in the topic, I’d encourage you to attend any of the meetups listed above. Maybe you’ll even meet Stephen!

Let me know in the comments what you might know about any of the resources on the list, or what you think of the list overall. Thanks!

Brad Feld On When to Quit Your Day Job

(Note: This interview first appeared at — “Your Source for Local Innovation” in  Minnesota: Innovation, Startups, and Tech.)

Brad Feld, one of the most admired VCs, talking at event

Brad Feld, coauthor, “Startup Opportunities: Know When to Quit Your Day Job”

Few VCs have the success record of Brad Feld of Foundry Group in Boulder, Colorado, and even fewer as many writing credits. That includes several best-selling books. Well, now he’s uncorked another title, this time with coauthor Sean Wise, the subtitle of which addresses that vexing question most every would-be entrepreneur faces: when do I know it’s time to go all in and quit my day job?

I first met Brad in 2007, the year I began attending a tech conference he helped launch in Denver called “Defrag.” (And I reported on it every year for 10 years.) That was also the year Brad cofounded Techstars, and I was lucky enough to sit next to him at dinner and get the download on those plans. I so tried to get Minneapolis to become one of the Techstars cities, but, alas, it wasn’t to be back then. Eventually, of course, the accelerator found its way to Minnesota as our startup community strengthened, launching Techstars+Target and smaller programs at Mayo Clinic and Land O Lakes. Also, after years of encouraging Brad and his partner Seth Levine to look at investing in Minnesota, Foundry Group led a Series A in a startup they discovered called LeadPages, and they continue to watch what’s happening here.

When I got a look at Brad’s new book, and loved it, I immediately wanted to know more.

Q: Brad, were you surprised this book so quickly hit the list of top five best-selling business books on Amazon?

Yes. While I was confident that it would be popular, especially at a discounted price for a short period of time, I was overwhelmed and excited by the number of people who grabbed a copy.

Q: The original version of the book was published in 2014. Why did you and your coauthor decide to publish a second edition?

The first edition was published by FG Press, a publishing company that my partners and I at Foundry Group started. FG Press wasn’t successful so we shut it down, but we were proud of “Startup Opportunities” as a book. I had previously (and am currently) publishing with Wiley. They were enthusiastic about doing a second edition of the book. We added a few chapters, cleaned stuff up, and had Chris Sacca write a foreword.

Q: While the title of book is somewhat bland, the subtitle — “Know When to Quit Your Day Job” — is certainly not. Tell us about that came about, and why.

My coauthor Sean came up with it. He is quick with a one-liner and often talked to his students about the key to starting a new business was to identify the right opportunity. He often said that “friends don’t let friends pursue bad opportunities,” and one day the line “Know When to Quit Your Day Job” popped out.

Q: You make it very clear the book is intended primarily for first-time entrepreneurs. But it’s no secret they have a hard time getting attention from VCs. Is the book your way of trying to help the many thousands you have to say “no” to? I’m of course alluding to your famous blog post in 2009, “Saying No In Less Than 60 Seconds.”

When I look at the hundreds of companies I’ve funded (well over 500 at this point), greater than 50% of them were started by first-time entrepreneurs. However, even if I’ve invested in 300 companies started by first-time entrepreneurs, I’ve probably said no to 10,000 or more. I often get asked for feedback after telling someone no. Given that volume, there is no way to give people deep feedback. So, I thought a book around Startup Opportunities would be helpful to be able to point at.

Q: Of all the things this book tries to teach entrepreneurs — the realities of doing a startup — what’s the one thing you find is the hardest for them to understand or accept?

That the idea is useless. Ideas are cheap. Ideas flow freely. Lots of people have the same idea at the very beginning. The idea is not what matters. It’s what you do with the idea that matters.

Q: Are millennial entrepreneurs different? What would you say about their expectations? Are they coachable?

I work with entrepreneurs born between 1950 and 2000. Everyone – each entrepreneur – is different. I wouldn’t categorize them by the generation they belong to.

Q: Why are early-stage investors so focused on “the team”?

It’s really hard to be a solo entrepreneur. Having a great, effective, and well-functioning founding team makes an enormous difference. And, the greatest killer of startups is team issues.

Q: Knowing you have, in fact, invested in first-time entrepreneurs in your day, have many of those been financial winners? And will you continue to invest in first-time entrepreneurs?

Yes and yes. Many of the successful companies that I’ve been an investor in have been started by first-timers. And, if you look at my last few investments, I think each of them has at least one first-time entrepreneur on the team.

Q: You’ve written or cowritten so many great books for entrepreneurs. How do you keep it up? Do you have a writing schedule? You’re also a prolific blogger. How many hours per week do you devote to writing?

I try to blog daily, but I go through phases where I need a break because I don’t feel like my writing is fresh. I’m in one of those modes now and have taken a few weeks off from blogging and am getting ready to start again. Regarding my books, I go through phases. I’ll have very productive periods where I can write for two or so hours a day. I then have long stretches, often many months, where I don’t work on any books. My general pace right now is about a book a year, but it’s lumpy. I don’t really segment my time carefully, so I don’t really know how much I write each week. And, I spent a ridiculous amount of time writing email – does that count?

Thanks, Brad. The new book is fantastic. Congratulations to you and your coauthor, Sean Wise. We’ll continue here in Minnesota to practice the things you recommend in another of your great books, “Startup Communities.”

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