Most Likely to Succeed 2017

You voted and here are this year’s winners and finalists!

Your votes are in on the new startups and small businesses you think are most likely to succeed. These winners and finalists represent the best of Minnesota’s flourishing startup community. They share with us the story behind their business, mistakes they’ve learned from along the way, their biggest accomplishments and their plans for the years ahead.

Advertising & Marketing
Professional Services
Food Producer
Consumer Services
Beverage Producer
Professional Services B2B
Food & Beverage Retail


Winner: Hello Mom

A chat-based app designed to provide new moms with information, support and encouragement.

Where did you get your idea?

Kristen (Co-founder): When I became a mother, I noticed how motherhood can be lonely and isolating. I turned to online mom groups and forums for support, but saw the entire process as inefficient and wanted to create something better.

How did you raise money?

Kristen: Everything’s been bootstrapped so far; we may need to consider raising venture capital for faster growth.

Courtney: Boots all over the place.


What is your measure of success? How will you know you have it made?

Kristen:  When we have created a sustainable business supporting mothers while breaking down the negative societal constructs of motherhood.


What has been the biggest mistake you have made so far?

Kristen: Taking too long to launch.


What's your biggest accomplishment?

Courtney: Solidifying our company mission felt amazing. We aligned on all of these single words that conveyed a mission I wanted to be a part of.


Where do you envision your company to be in five years?

Courtney:  I see us being a small, consistent company made up of crazy-smart, like-minded, supportive people who make a good living — both financially and emotionally.


What's your favorite electronic diversion?

Courtney:  I love Pete Holmes’ You Made it Weird podcast. Everything on Apartment Therapy. I may or may not be slightly interested in a show called Search Party, I had to do something after Pretty Little Liars ended.


What's your favorite analog diversion?

Kristen: Running, yoga or reading. There is nothing I love more than reading a book outside in my backyard.

Courtney: Decorating and renovating around the house. I recently drew up a to-scale floor plan of the main level of our house, including elevations.


2017 Technology Finalist: , MyBarJar

An app that works like a registry tailored to bars, breweries and nightclubs.

We bootstrapped in 2016.

We’ll have it made when people start sending drink credits to others as a random gesture and not simply for celebrations. Every day is an accomplishment: We get to learn more about the entrepreneurial journey.

2017 Technology Finalist: Sittereco, Sittereco

We created an app to find babysitting recommendations from your friends. We bootstrapped. Our measure of success is the rate of user acquisition and engagement. 

Greatest accomplishment was acquiring 700+ parents and sitters and 7000+ engagements in Q1. When Sittereco becomes a household name, we’ll be smiling proudly.

Advertising & Marketing

Winner: The Social Butterfly

A creative agency bringing brands to life through online platforms engaging on innovation and new ideas.

Where did you get your idea?

The Social Butterfly started as a mock-up for a class project.


How did you raise money?

We invested $4k into camera equipment and hit the phones.


What is your measure of success?

It is the size of the clients we work with and being able to keep this as a full time position as the the team starts to graduate.


What's your biggest mistake so far?

Trusting the wrong people at an early stage of the company.


What's your biggest accomplishment?

Getting our first office and having an official ribbon cutting provided by the community.


Where will you be in five years?

Working with well-known clients and being able to bring the new up and coming brands above the industry leaders.


What's your favorite electronic diversion?

Podcasts or documentaries allow us to learn new things and see how other people present things.


What's your favorite analog diversion?

A good night out with friends.


Advertising & Marketing Finalist: , 651 Lab

An advertising agency that specializes in helping challenger brands disrupt their industry through bold out-of-the-box ideas. We began our business by saving money from two year’s worth of paychecks. Success will be when an employee says they work at 651 Lab and the other person says “Wow! How did you land that job?” Our biggest accomplishment was launching PropScore.

Advertising & Marketing Finalist: , SeaChange

SeaChange means transformation. We transform customers’ needs for print, digital media, etc. We were funded with private equity from the beginning. Success is to become known as a place employees are drawn to and customers want to be. Our biggest accomplishment was being named by Printing Industries of America as a 2016 “Best Workplace.”

Advertising & Marketing Finalist: , Leadpages

More than 45,000 businesses in 115 countries use Leadpages for their digital marketing. We have collected over 269,375,013 opt-ins on our platform. We view success as more of a journey than a destination. The biggest mistake we’ve made is not moving fast enough. And we say that having been an Inc 500 Fastest Growing Company award winner for the past 3 years straight.

Professional Services

Winner: Goat Consulting

We provide business services for brands and manufacturers selling on the Amazon marketplace. 

Where did you get your idea?

We saw the opportunity of selling on Amazon and wanted to work with different companies helping them sell on that channel through proper online merchandising and Amazon channel advertising.


Did you have a mentor?

The confidence to embark on this venture came from the knowledge instilled by the professors at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.


How did you raise money?

We were bootstrapped. Our clients have enabled us to grow through hiring our first employee in March and bringing on a computer science intern this summer.


What's your biggest mistake so far?

We should have started hiring sooner, allowing us to help more clients and share our expertise.


Where do you envision your company to be in five years?

Our vision is to be the premier firm for helping brands and manufacturers sell on Amazon. We see a huge opportunity in the data and software space for sellers, which is why we hired a software developer to build out technology to increase the efficiency in which brands and manufacturers sell.


What's your favorite electronic diversion?



What is your favorite analog diversion?

Taking advantage of everything Minnesota has to offer. Biking on the Greenway, weekends up north at the cabin, and cheering on the Vikings.


Professional Services Finalist: , Joi Unlimited

We are a coaching and consulting firm specializing in conflict, crisis and change management. Central to our business model is increasing economic viability for those we call “invisible emotional laborers”: healers, artists and social justice advocates. Our biggest mistake was being slow to hire personnel.

Professional Services Finalist: , 26 Letters

We are an SaaS company that produces insights and analytics that help employers attract, retain and grow top talent by fostering engaged and inclusive cultures. Bootstrapping was a grind, but it enabled us to pursue our vision. One lesson we learned is not to do too many things at once. Now we focus on improving employee diversity, engagement and inclusion.

Professional Services Finalist: , The Well Consulting

We specialize in improving health care products and services. CEO and founder Rebecca Noreen ended her second year with two additional consultants. Over 85% of our clients are repeat customers. Our biggest accomplishment was entering the private equity industry to provide healthcare trends and expertise.

Food Producer

Winner: Bolton Bees

A beekeeping business that sells Minnesota-Hardy bees and distinct location-specific raw honey.


How did you form your idea?

We decided to breed bees who were able to survive our northern climate as well as for honey production. We were the first beekeepers in the nation to partner with solar developers.


Who served as a role model?

Our entrepreneurial parents taught us to be persistent and follow through with our dreams.


How did you raise money?

We bootstrapped. We had full-time jobs for two years. All of our money went into the business. 


What's your biggest mistakes so far?

Forgetting to secure a cover on a hive or allowing the honey barrel to overflow. These seem like big mistakes at the time, but they are really small mistakes.


What's your biggest accomplishment?

We were featured in National Geographic, with Martha Stewart and by other press for the partnerships that we are forming with solar developers.


What's your favorite electronic diversion?

Ordering in Indian food and watching a TV show on Netflix.


What's your favorite analog diversion?



Food Producer Finalist: , Local Crate

Named to the next cohort of the TechStars+Target Retail Accelerator program, Local Crate makes cook-at-home meal kits inspired by local chefs. We launched with a Kickstarter campaign and raised funds from friends & family. We recently raised funding from angel investors. We aim to have operations in operations in every major market.

Food Producer Finalist: , Spoon Optional

We offer a fresh, organic, meal in a jar that provides portability, digestibility and delectability. We

We self-funded our venture, but would be interested in investment partners.

Our biggest mistake is that we spent months and thousands of dollars to discover a potential partner was not a good fit. We’re getting better at trusting our own instincts. Our biggest accomplishment thus far has been how quickly we were able to bring our idea to shelf. In eight months, we developed all the recipes, created a brand and brought the product to local retail outlets. 

Food Producer Finalist: , WholeMe

We prepare nutrient-dense, grain-free foods that are delicious and convenient. We raised $1 million in an initial round of seven investors. Our biggest mistake so far was following a bright and shiny object before we were ready! A major retailer approached us for a pilot about 6-12 months before we were ready. Lots of valuable lessons were learned, but it was costly.


Consumer Services

Winner: Bent River Outfitter

An outdoor adventure outfitter renting kayaks, canoes, standup paddleboards, etc. specializing in guided trips throughout the Blue Earth County River Valley.

Where did you get the idea?

One guy that liked the outdoors (Donny), heard of another guy that really liked rivers (Ricky). They reached out to a third guy who liked gear a lot (Bernie), which completed the trifecta perfectly. Bent River was born! Also, no one was outfitting on the Blue Earth — which was weird, because it’s awesome!


Why be an entrepreneur?

Communities that live on the river and have historical ties to the river should stay connected to the river. It was never about money, it was culture, quality of life and maybe even a little legacy for our kids.


How did you raise money?

A small investment was deemed viable and a larger investment was made. As growth continued, employees were introduced and exponential growth occurred.


What's your measure of success?

Success is determined by three criteria: Are youth getting out there? Are the rivers cleaner than we found them? Are we still having fun?


What's your biggest accomplishment?

Bent River has really encouraged our community to just get out there and do something awesome!


Consumer Services Finalist: , Dojour

Website that helps users find more things to do in their city. Shareable on all social platforms, it automatically integrates into a venue’s selected website and social accounts. Our goal is to be on the front page of apps of everyone’s phone and be the go-to tool for making plans. Our biggest accomplishment is our rentention rate. If they sign up, they don’t leave.

Consumer Services Finalist: , Brewery Running Series

The Series hosts fun-run 5k-ish events at breweries & taprooms. We began by hanging flyers, dropping off news releases and posting events on community calendars. Events have a community feel, with 10% of revenue given to local nonprofits — totalling $60,000. Our guidance to participants: Be Active. Have Fun. Give Back.

Consumer Services Finalist: , Moxie Malas

We offer yoga services and workshops as well as aromatherapy and crystal jewelry. We started really small and poured every penny back into the business.

Success is hearing how we supported people on their journey. Another marker is being able to pay the mortgage. We had not anticipated the growth, so it has been quite a bit of work to go back and reorganize, but it feels great.

Beverage Producer

Winner: Insight Brewing

A globally-inspired local brewery and taproom.

How did you get your idea?

The idea for Insight stems back to 2007, when I accidentally tasted the world’s highest-rated beer, brewed by Belgian Monks. This set off a chain of events that led to me traveling in 2010 and 2011 to Europe and Japan to work on a hop farm, apprentice at numerous breweries and learn about the world of beer.


Did you have a role model?

I was guided by my parents, who taught me to pursue what drives me and to have empathy for others. In the case of beer, we were just so passionate in learning about the vast history of the culture that we simply had to open a brewery to continue the adventure.


How did you raise money?

We got enough friends and family on board at smaller increments that allowed us to get a bank loan, and then another loan from our building owner for renovations.


How will you know you have it made?

‘Made it’ implies an end, and we started Insight to embark on an adventure in beer. Hopefully, it never ends.


Beverage Producer Finalist: , Bizzy Coffee

The producer of Bizzy Double Shot, a line of plant-based energy shots that are shelf-stable, organic, unsweetened, and zero calories. We want to be as well known as Red Bull.

Beverage Producer Finalist: , Du Nord Spirits

A scrappy distillery born of rural practicality and city vibe. Thanks to family, crowdfunding and Seward Redesign, we got started with 20% of what other distilleries started with.

Beverage Producer Finalist: , Make It Simple

We are bridging the gap between health and convenience in the food and beverage industry. We like it when parents say we helped them maintain a healthier lifestyle for their kids.


Winner: Stemonix

Making it possible to test medication so it works correctly on people the first time.

Where did you get your idea?

Founder Ryan Gordon was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. The first round of chemotherapy proved ineffective and he experienced toxic side effects. The physicians were considering stronger chemotherapy, but they couldn’t be sure it would be effective. This unpredictability led to the the business.


How did you raise money?

We bootstrapped the first year, and then received our first small investment so we could demonstrate the potential of what we could do. We have subsequently generated greater amounts from angel investors/venture financing sources.


How do you measure success?

Success for StemoniX is when the lives of patients are bettered through our technology, via new cures and/or the enabling of personalized medicine.


What's your biggest mistake?

Waiting so long to do what we love.


MedTech Finalist: , RoverMed

RoverMed’s nanocrystal drug delivery technology precisely targets and delivers drugs directly into disease cells to treat some of the most challenging diseases, such as cancer.

MedTech Finalist: , Dose Health 

A smart pillbox that sends sound, light, and text message reminders in a small, portable package that is covered by all Medicaid waiver programs in Minn.

MedTech Finalist: , MyMeds

A secure, interactive solution that bridges the gap between patients and healthcare. Our Digital + Human approach connects patients, their health plans and care teams.


Winner: STEM Bunnies & Peacebunny Island

Creating programs with rabbits that engage kids and spark an interest in how STEM careers can help solve challenges.

How did you get your idea?

When looking for a pet rabbit after Easter, we found 362 bunnies on Craigslist. We wanted to stop the impulse shopping-abandonment cycle by giving people a chance to learn about bunnies.   


How did you learn entrepreneurship?

Minnesota Cup created opportunities to meet a ton of people who are further along and who have advised us.


How do you raise money?

At our “traveling rabbit zoo” of 16+ different breeds. People give what they can for food, and we reinvest it.


What's biggest mistake you have made so far? 

Learning how to decide, and whose business advice to consider. Sometimes the answer comes from unexpected sources.


What's your biggest accomplishment?

Landing a contract to sell the Angora rabbit gentle hair clippings for our “HEARTfelt” luxury yarns. 


What's your favorite electronic diversion?

Playing online games


What's your favorite analog diversion?

Spending time with my family.


Education Finalist : , The Big Know

We create world-class educational content for any channel. By merging creatives with instructional designers and learning techno-logists, we deliver a unique combination of talent and tech for business. We were originally created by and incubated within GoKart Labs, which also provided the initial seed funding.

Education Finalist: , HOMI

Homi enables college students to connect with alumni for career networking purposes, and lets businesses get an edge in recruiting college talent. Homi has raised more than $500,000 in two years from angel investors, allowing them to build a product, expand to thousands of users across 15 campuses and get to revenue.

Professional Services B2B

Winner: Do Good Events

Plans unique experiences for any organization.

Where did you get your idea?

Do Good Events was created because we saw a need — businesses and nonprofits that were stressed by their event planning. They understood the importance of hosting an event but were not successfully executing or connecting with their guests.


How did you raise money?

Luckily, expenses are minimal when starting a service-based business.


How do you measure success?

We have measured our level of success on happy clients and events that have achieved their goals.


What's your biggest mistake?

We should have hired full-time staff faster. It was busier than it needed to be for a little while!


What's your biggest accomplishment?

This is constantly evolving. Having a team that enjoys their jobs and works well together is a huge accomplishment.


Where do you see the company in five years?

A small team of event professionals who we will be viewed as the industry expert in the Twin Cities.


What's your favorite analog diversion?

Running, exploring new restaurants, being on water in any way and a glass of wine.


Professional Services B2B Finalist: , M. Carr & Associates

A WBENC-certified general contracting business specializing in commercial office expansion, renovation and maintenance/repair services. We deliver better service than expected.


Professional Services B2B Finalist: , Finnesse Partners

An executive search firm for the medical device industry. We want to be known as the go-to medical device executive search firm nationally. We work tirelessly to earn this reputation.


Professional Services B2B Finalist: , New Rules

New Rules is a 4,000 sq. ft. communal marketplace combining co-work, retail and event space. We enable individuals and communities to expand their creative and professional capabilities.


Winner: Mash

Helping you achieve athletic goals.

Where did you get your idea?

We saw a need for a positive environment for youth athletes to succeed in. With our passion being baseball and performance training, it was a natural fit for us to pursue this as a business.


How did you raise money?

We raised $30,000 from friends and family to invest in equipment and worked the first six months before paying ourselves any wages. We took a huge leap of faith to create MASH.


What's your measure of success?

We allow our athletes to set their own goals.


What's your biggest accomplishment?

Our athletes who move on to college (whether for sports or academics) find tremendous success where they wind up.


What's your favorite analog diversions?

Ballfields and lakes! Target Field is absolutely beautiful and Minnesota summers are best spent on the lake.


Healthcare Finalist: , Protect Your Crown

We promote mental health awareness through discussions and wellness fairs focused on mental well-being and self-care.

Healthcare Finalist: , Veteran Massage and Bodyworks

We are a veteran-owned business providing therapeutic massage and bodywork with conventional medicine offered to veterans and general population.

Healthcare Finalist: , Sleep Health Specialists

A passionate group of professionals dedicated to increasing employee wellness and productivity through the power of sleep.


Winner: Solavore

A women-owned manufacturer of 100% fuel-free clean cooking technology through retained heat solar ovens.

Where did you get your idea?

Like the razor company owner said, “I liked the product so much I bought the company.”


Did you have a mentor?

Founder Anne Patterson worked for Steve Jobs for four years. She learned to appreciate passion and perfection in product design.


How did you raise money?

The company’s three partners funded it.


What is your measure of success?

Financial results and adoption of solar cooking as a viable alternative.


What's your five year vision?

To bring clean cooking alternatives to the 2.6 billion people in the world still cooking over wood fire.


What's your favorite analog diversion?

Mountain biking.


Manufacturing Finalist: , mXers Audio

We are a student-driven startup making patented, customizable, high-quality earbuds. We raised money through bootstrapping and crowdfunding. Biggest mistake was not acting quickly enough. We spent years on design and development, without getting the product out for people to test. Success is good reviews!

Manufacturing Finalist: , Primate Longboards

We design and sell unique, handcrafted longboards. We bootstrapped by saving money from high school jobs. It was to be used for college but instead it launched Primate. We have been profitable for the last 15 months. We love entrepreneurship because there will always be room to grow.

Food & Beverage Retail

Winner: Pinku Japanese Street Food

Chef Sugimura presents food as an art form rooted in culture, entertainment and education.

What is the idea behind your business?

We have a steadfast vision to propel the creation of an original chef-inspired fine-casual national restaurant brand for Japanese street food using the finest fish and ethnic ingredients to create an experience rooted in culture, entertainment and education.


How did you raise money?

Our funding strategy was bootstrapping! In our hearts, we believed maintaining control over decisions was critical and was worth the increased financial risk so we introduced something innovative and mind-blowing to our investors, who jumped on board immediately.


What's your biggest mistake so far?

To launch a new food and beverage brand, it has been challenging to locate and use effective industry tools to correctly match people and capacities.


What's your biggest accomplishment?

Achieving our three goals: obtaining a monthly net profit goal of 19%; opening a second operation within two years using third-party financial support; and swiftly building a highly awarded brand.


Where do you envision your company to be in five years?

Our five-year vision for the company is to have at least four operations in place and actively implement phase two of the expansion with new partners — 20 operations to attractively position the company for sale.


What's your favorite electronic diversion?

We’re obsessed with 3D printing; it’s great creating everyday, computer-controlled three-dimensional objects.


What's your favorite analog diversion?

We exercise to blow off some steam after a stressful day of running a business — to feel better, boost our endurance and have fun!


Food & Beverage Retail Finalist: , Vero's Taco's

Vero’s Tacos

Vero’s Taco’s is a family-run Mexican restaurant in Mankato. Though the establishment is well-received on social media, it operates without a web page and its only online access is through its FaceBook page. Fans say it is the best place to go for Mexican food in the Mankato area. 


Food & Beverage Retail Finalist: , Penny’s Coffee

A design-driven cafe selling an awesome place to hang out.

With two successful shops (Downtown Minneapolis and Linden Hills) employing outstanding people, paying livable wages and hosting hundreds of guests daily, we’ve been blessed with success beyond our expectations. Now we’re focused on bringing the Penny’s experience to neighborhoods throughout the country.

Food & Beverage Retail Finalist: , Lucy’s Burgers

In White Bear Lake, featuring gourmet burgers, cheese curds and best onion rings!

Lucy’s is a bootstrapped adventure by Joel Kunza and Rob Scott. We identified the need for good food and service close to where we live, so we decided to take on the project. We are still learning and having fun. We definitely underestimated the initial size of our location. Our volume is a true testament to the food quality.


Winner: Minneapolis Craft Market

Mobile marketplace featuring a rotating selection of handcrafted goods by designers and makers of the North.

How did you raise money for your venture?

We invested a tax return of a couple thousand dollars into our business account in spring 2015 to start and grew it slowly and frugally from there. Luckily the business was able start without a huge outlay in primary costs as we didn’t need physical space or equipment to get up and running.


What is your measure of success?

There will always be new measures of success as the business grows. The most significant to date has been getting to the place where I was able to quit my day job and focus on the market full time. Making it has already happened; there’s nothing better than being able to make a living from doing work you really want to do.


What has been the biggest mistake you have made so far?

It was where we didn’t trust our instincts and followed someone else’s advice instead of leading with what we thought was right. We have a much better sense of that now and I am lucky enough to be in the position of saying no when it doesn’t feel like the right fit.


What has been your biggest accomplishment?

We won the 2016 Emerging Business Award from the Metro IBA Indie Business Awards and that was such a great early recognition that we were on the right track with what we were trying to do. To be recognized by a network of other independent businesses was a huge honor and helped raise the profile of the market in the Twin Cities.  


Retail Finalist: , Kidizen

A marketplace that provides a storefront for moms to independently create, earn money and find the latest styles for their kids. We bootstrapped, then raised money from friends and family, angel investors, seed venture capital funds, and most recently Series A funds, which has been our biggest accomplishment.

Retail Finalist: , Hagen and Oats

Producer of custom handcrafted wood signage and decor.

We began by borrowing a band-saw to create something for ourselves. Due to the response, our creation got on social media, we made more and the demand kept growing. Our biggest accomplishment so far was being asked by the Xcel Energy Center to make a few pieces of art for celebrities.

Retail Finalist: , MiNNBOX

A zero-waste gift and subscription box company, featuring Minnesota-made products.

We spent a year before going public, buying materials as we were able. Not relying on investors has given us significant flexibility. Success for us means having a platform to dicuss plastic pollution, an issue we care deeply about. Our biggest mistake was underestimating the time it takes to run a company. An incredible honor was getting Duluth’s 20 Under 40 award.