Minnesota's young entrepreneurs, age 35 and younger, in their own words
The generation that grew up on computers, video games and smart phones is busy at work creating the next wave of startups and new business endeavors of all sorts. The historical milestones of their young lives include 9/11, the War on Terror and the financial collapse of 2008. Nevertheless, they enter the world of free enterprise with a mix of fearlessness, idealism and togetherness. But generalizations invariably obscure their great variety, and so we set out to answer the age-old question: Who are these guys?
We arbitrarily defined young as those 35 and under, and soliticed names through our online networks. The results range from some familiar faces who are making millions, to undiscovered talent in the pre-revenue phase.
These are the young entrepreneurs.
Wesley Otto, 21
Co-Founder of ElevateX, an ever-evolving software-as-a-service for sales industry to provide feedback to clients.
“Communications is absolutely necessary in business and can make or break a company.”
Erik Brust, 22
CEO of JonnyPops, a natural ice cream novelty manufacturer. Revenue: over $1 million.
Learn more about JonnyPops here.
“Last year at this time we were focusing on finals; this year we are expanding to thousands of grocery stores.”
Bianca Dawkins (left), 23
Founder and CEO of Faces of Hope, a benefit corporation that uses fashion and technology to engage youth.
Revenue: $6,000 - $42,000.
“As a young person, I understand what youth like myself need to thrive and create success through their own measures.”
Benjamin Hohl, 23
COO of SparkStarter, a unique blending of social networking and online dating.
“All too often top business students head to Fortune 500 companies and after a few years they realize they’ve gone down a path they’re not passionate about.”
Sean Higgins, 23
Co-Founder of ilos Videos, a web app that allows teams to record and share training videos in just a couple of clicks.
Revenue: less than $500,000.
“ilos is about helping you get your team up to speed stat, so that they can spend more time on the things that matter.”
Eric Sannerud (left), 24
CEO of Mighty Axe Hops, which grows local hops for local beer.
Revenue: $5,000 - $10,000.
Projected: $250,000 - $300,000.
“We provide a more resilient supply of hops that is not affected by West Coast droughts, doesn’t travel thousands of miles, and doesn’t exploit migrant labor for harvest. Plus, we have fun while doing it. Cheers!”
Andrew Kincheloe, 25
President of Buddy’s Nut Butters, handcrafted artisan peanut butters.
“Buddy’s has a strong focus on working with family owned-and-operated companies to source all the raw goods for the peanut butters.”
Katherine Steller Schultz, 25
Owner and Stylist at Steller Hair Company, a seven-chair hair salon in the heart of Northeast Minneapolis.
“I firmly believe that we need younger minds taking the risk to open new businesses. Our community saw our passion and drive, and they supported us.”
Joy McBrien (left), 25
CEO and founder of Fair Anita, which sells personal accessories and jewelry to socially conscious consumers in the U.S. via retailer partners and website.
Revenue: $7,000 - $50,000
“Fair Anita is a social enterprise that empowers talented yet marginalized women in over 10 developing countries with dignified jobs and fair trade relationships.”
Grant Severson, 26
Co-Founder of Pazta Pizza, a young, innovative and fast growing frozen pizza company targeting the specialty pizza market.
Revenue: $400,000 - $800,000
“We started by packing the back of my F-150 with dry ice and making pizza runs to our first stores at 5 a.m. before our day jobs started.”
Jeff Sevaldson, 26
Owner of DrumLite, an LED drum lighting company based out of Minneapolis.
Revenue: $100,000 - $150,000
Read more about DrumLite here.
“We really love talking about bootstrapping and getting your idea off the ground rather than raising capital right away. We feel that this approach really helped to set us up for success.”
Chris Schutrop, 27
CEO of RoundTable StartUps, which connects people who are interested in starting and joining companies.
“My vision for RoundTable is to be the platform where people can go to both start and grow their idea from a concept to a business and to do this on a global scale.”
Christine Hehre, 27
Owner and creative director of junebird creative, a limited service graphic and web design and marketing company.
“On the surface I’m just another twenty-something who thought it would be great to work for herself and do what she loves, what comes naturally to her every day.”
David Holt, 27
Co-founder and general counsel for CutMedicalBills, an online service which supports and trains patients who are struggling to pay medical bills. Revenue: under $100,000
“We are the first user-friendly, patient engagement platform that cuts out the traditional expensive middle-man negotiators. We are using a system that has been around for decades and simply teaching that system to the end user — the patient.”
Elizabeth Geisler (left), 27
Owner/president/designer at Cocoon by Elizabeth Geisler, a modern yet mature take on luxury women’s-wear with a focus on timeless sophistication and a flattering fit.
Revenue: $100,000 - $150,000
“My goal is to create that moment for every woman who puts on one of my pieces, that feeling of elegance and pride in how you look. I feel creating that type of confidence creates empowerment.”
Chet Funk, 28
Co-Founder of Cafe Inc, a members-only collaborative workplace that offers an alternative office space for mobile employees.
Revenue: over $1 million
“Organizations, whether composed of one individual or 1,000 individuals, can better leverage the power of the sharing economy within real estate.”
Kevin Capeder, 28
Co-founder of Altrulytics, which offers many services to business and nonprofits, including data collection, aggregation, cleanup, donor database shopping, reporting and program evaluation, inbound and outbound marketing.
“DOING GOOD WITH DATA: A few simple words by which we work. The result of combining our charmingly helpful nature with our ever-so-curious minds.”
Timothy DenHerder-Thomas (left), 28
General manager of Cooperative Energy Futures, a community energy co-op helping members save energy and create clean energy together.
Revenue: $30,000 - $50,000
“Our services reduce carbon emissions, cut energy costs that are a major financial burden for low-income families, catalyze the transition to a distributed clean energy future, and train and employ people of color to develop clean energy.”
Amee McDonald, 29
Co-founder and CEO of jabberlogic, an ad agency alternative for small businesses and nonprofits.
Revenue: under $500,000
“We help community-based organizations tell their story and connect with the audiences they’re trying to help.”
Colleen O’Connor Toberman, 29
Board member of Northeast Investment Cooperative, a new cooperative that is allowing the people of Northeast Minneapolis to pool their resources and collectively buy, rehab, and manage commercial and residential property in the neighborhood.
“NEIC is doing something no one else in the country is doing: commercial real-estate development as a cooperative. Our work brings new economic vitality into our community while insuring that the benefits are reaped by the neighborhood.”
Kalsey Beach, 29
President of Do Good Events, which specializes in event planning for businesses and non-profits. Revenue: $250,000
“For many, events are stressful. Year after year, event planners make the list of top 10 most stressful jobs, we love being able to take that stress off our clients’ plates!”
Kari Severson (left), 29
CEO of Walkway, a new Minneapolis-based start up founded to activate lifestyles by developing and introducing to the market the Walkway Workstation, an innovative treadmill desk that allows users to charge their devices, access the internet and remain productive — all without missing a step.
“Sitting truly is the new smoking and it’s time to take a stand. I’m excited to share a point of view on how lifestyle changes (such as changing the way we work) can make a serious impact on global health and wellness.”
Robert Flessner, 29
Co-founder of Vugo, which provides an advertising technology platform for the rideshare economy.
“Minneapolis is a great metropolitan area. However, it lacks a real technology star to put it on the map. Viewswagen hopes to fill that gap.”
Andrew Berg, 30
Co-founder and account lead for Humdinger & Sons, a full service advertising agency that focuses on helping emerging startups and technologies build, launch and grow their brands.
“We’re firm believers that the quality of your product and story will always beat the pants off any type of promotional spend.”
Erin Werde, 30
President and co-owner of Affiance Coaching, a consulting company that helps individuals and teams become more productive using the results of the Kolbe Index, which articulates how people take action. The niche is ‘coaching based on instinct’.
“The term conative is defined as action derived from instinct. Every employee — regardless of industry — has a conative drive to unlock.”
Jennifer Flavin Biswas, 30
Owner of Paisley + Sparrow, a curated collection of products that are “pretty with a purpose”, or trendy items that support social issues like HIV and human trafficking.
“Lives are literally transformed all over the world (Africa, Asia, the US and more) because of the products in our shop.”
Peter Kane, 30
Founder of Startup Venture Loft, Minneapolis’ startup hub, a community of 20+ High Growth Potential, investable ventures, and co-founder of Healthcare.mn, Minnesota’s Healthcare Innovation Community. Hosts monthly events on Healthcare, Startups and Technology.
See Peter's op-ed on startups here.
Grant Moody (left), 30
Owner of Express Employment Professional, which helps companies recruit, qualify and onboard good employees who maintain production of products and increase profitability.
Revenue: $5 million
“We give hope to the hopeless. We give dignity to those who can’t help themselves. We find people jobs that provide more than just money.”
Adrian Coulter, 31
President of XLfeet, a niche retailer of men’s footwear sizes 13+ and wide to EEEEEE both online at XLfeet.com and out of a physical store in Downtown St. Paul.
Revenue: $500,000 - $600,000
“I provide expert advice of how this footwear will fit based on my personal experience of having size 16 feet.”
Chris Carey, 31
President and founder of Modern Automotive Performance, a retailer, wholesaler and manufacturer of automotive performance products.
Revenue: $10 million
“We have created 40 jobs in the Twin Cities and help people all over the world find excitement and exhilaration through automobiles.”
Cody Marshall, 31
Vice president of services at Stoneridge Software, which features Dynamics AX and Dynamics NAV accounting and operations software for mid-market and large businesses.
Revenue: Almost $8 million in 2014
“We are technology nerds and we love to apply our knowledge and expertise in order to make businesses run more efficiently through information technology.”
Mike Rynchek (left), 31
CEO of Spyder Trap, a Minneapolis-based digital-only marketing firm with expert design/dev for mobile, apps and web.
Revenue: $3 - $5 million
“No matter what we’re involved in, we do it with enthusiasm and innovation.”
Sammi Massie 31
Owner and attorney at Massie Law, which does estate planning and small business planning for Gen Y’s.
Revenue: up to $50,000
“Generation Y’s don’t want the same advisors as their parents; they want their own advisors who understand their unique needs.”
Taylor Baldry, 31
Co-Founder and co-captain of Grown-Up Club, an event planning and community building organization.
Revenue: $3,000 - $7,000
“Finding a professional networking or meet-up group in Minnesota isn’t hard to do. It is a lot more rare to find an organization that truly understands how difficult it is to take new friendships beyond the superficial, and actively designs each event with that in mind.”
Vinoth Gopalakrishnan, 31
CEO of CrowdShoppe, a shopping service using text messages that saves consumers time by finding, buying and delivering products or services.
“We want to be the go to for all of your day-to-day needs.”
Will Davis, 31
Founder and CEO of Njord, which designs and markets personal care solutions that make men’s lives simpler.
“Inherent in our business success is a simpler world where consumers buy fewer widgets. We make amazing products that require people to use fewer of them.”
Bethany Mammenga, 32
Founder & CEO of BAM Essentials, which trains young women in St. Paul to create organic personal care products, and thereby gain the work and life skills to succeed.
“I’d love to grow this business to other geographic areas, to address the same issues affecting young women all over the world.”
Justin Musil, 32
Founder/owner of Elite Sports Advising, which assists elite high school athletes and their families as they navigate the recruiting process.
“To be where we are at as a business in just a short time has been a great ride and I would love to share with other people how we did it to help inspire other entrepreneurs.”
Ryan Anderson, 32
Principal and CEO of Belay Energy, which seeks to identify, source, finance, implement and measure utility and operational opportunities and risk mitigation strategies to improve the performance and financials of real estate portfolios.
Revenue: under $1million
“I started Belay because of a desire to disrupt the antiquated processes and procedures of commercial real estate.”
Brett Brohl, 33
CEO of BoomBoom Prints, an online marketplace that empowers independent artists to create their own online store and help them connect with new moms and families.
“We closed our first round of Venture capital late 2014 and are on target to become a success. Our team is made up of experienced entrepreneurs with past successes.”
Joe Keeley, 33
CEO/Founder of College Nannies and Tutors Development, the nation’s most complete resource for customized nanny, professional babysitting and tutoring services.
Revenue: $25 - $35 million
“As the largest employer of nannies and sitters in the world (5,000+), we help build stronger families each and every day by providing parents with family support when and where they need it most.”
Michael Schlotfeldt, 33
Founding partner of Plaudit Design, which has focused on creating websites and online strategies for clients for over 15 years. Revenue: $700,000 - $900,000
“I started this company with my twin brother, David, in high school. It is the only ‘job’ we have ever held. Many of the lessons were learned the hard way — by trial-and-error when starting so young — and others from the extremely successful and interesting individuals we met while working with many great Minnesota businesses.”
Nicholas Powley, 33
Founder of CoCreateX
See story on page 16.
Nicole Wirth, 33
VP of public relations and media for Koshi Footwear a web-based footwear retailer specializing in diverse selections of casual, outdoor, athletic and formal footwear for girls and teens who have a larger shoe size than most girls their age.
“We have a lot of motivation and not a lot of funding. We have a unique idea in a niche market and are motivated to be successful, but need a bit of exposure to make it to the next level.”
Tyson Schnitker, 33
President of Skaalvenn Distillery, a husband and wife team that runs a microdistillery in Brooklyn Park which is making vodka and rum.
“We don’t have a business degree, we weren’t born with a silver spoon, we don’t come from any money, and our money didn’t come from luck. Mainly funded from a deployment of personal savings and a very small personal loan funded by refinancing some ridiculously old vehicles most people would refer to as ‘beaters’ we’ve managed to open our microdistillery on a complete shoestring budget.”
Hannah Barnstable (eft), 33
President/Founder of Seven Sundays, a venture into the world of breakfast and maker of muesli by married duo, Hannah and Brady Barnstable. Revenue: $1 million
“The name Seven Sundays was born of founders’ desire to slow down the week and take time to enjoy the morning — as you do on Sunday — whether it be Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Adam Sieve, 34
Co-Owner of Hazel’s Northeast, a restaurant that serves classically inspired, creatively prepared American comfort food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Revenue: $1 million+
“We really embrace the model of think globally, act locally. We’re striving to make our corner of the world a little better by providing a space for great food, good jobs and community.”
Araya Jensen, 34
Owner and designer at Wind & Willow Home, which features her line of wooden spoons, wooden salad bowls, cutting boards and mini vessels. Revenue: $100,000 - $150,000
"I took Community Ed classes, watched YouTube videos and read business books and taught myself everything from designing my own website to product photography. Three years later I have outgrown my house and moved into a studio adding over 15 new products to my line.”
Clint McMahon, 34
Founder of MPLS/STP Clothing Co., a local T-shirt company run online.
Revenue: $200,000 - $300,000
“We want to be more than a T-shirt shop, we want to be a brand and space that people connect to, that helps build a sense of community and brings people together.”
Debra Arbit, 34
CEO of BridgeWorks, a consulting, research and training firm that specialized in generational gaps in the workplace and marketplace.
Revenue: $1.5 - $2 million
“Every BridgeWorks employee is a research hound and generational expert in his/her own right. We eat, breathe and live generations. Seriously. Our friends beg us to stop talking about it during happy hour.”
Stephanie Lee, 34
Founder of Host Agency Reviews, a website that helps the business-to-business travel industry, and works with travel agencies.
“The interesting question I get all the time is ‘Does anyone even use travel agents anymore?’ My answer tends to shock people: ‘Travel professionals still account for 1/3 of all U.S. travel sales.’ “
Thompson Aderinkomi, 34
Founder and CEO of RetraceHealth, a home medical care startup.
“We are building a company that is enriching the lives of its employees and creating a work environment that will help each individual reach their full potential. In essence, it is built on love. And love guides everything we do internally. More employers need to love their employees, not just like them."
Jade Barker, 35
CEO of TipJar, which is a tip jar for Web content, basically a “like” button tied to real money.
“If we reward what we value, we’ll get more of that. I love good content; let’s find a way to reward it so we get more of that."
Jeremy Flaten (left), 35
President of JerCo Construction, a residential construction firm serving the Twin Cities Metro Area.
Revenue: $800,000 - $1 million (Projected)
“At JerCo we try to focus on not only delivering a great product to our customers, but to deliver a great life for anyone who is in contact with us. Whether it is a phone call, a meeting, networking group, kids activities or giving back to the community!”
Jake Sturgis, 35
Chief storyteller at Capture Video, a video production business focused on storytelling to help schools, non-profits and small businesses.
Revenue: $100,000 - $250,000
“So many people wait for the ‘right time’ to make the jump from a secure job with benefits, regular salary, etc., but that right time never happens unless you make it happen.”
Jason Campbell, 35
U.S Patent Attorney and legal consultant for DataRoutes Legal Services, an IP analytics and strategy firm specializing in technology landscape analysis, with the capability and expertise to search for and analyze thousands of patents and non-patent literature, present the results and provide effective legal solutions to enable clients to safely navigate the growing patent thicket.
Revenue: under $500,000
“Navigating the patent thicket is a growing problem for most technology companies in Minnesota, and represents a real risk to new innovation efforts in the form of patent lawsuits from ‘patent trolls’ or competitors in the industry.”
Kathleen Harrell-Latham, 35
Managing Director and launched Midwest branch of Tower Legal Solutions, a national WBENC certified legal staffing and consulting company. Revenue: $4 - $5 million (Minneapolis only)
“This town is filled with talented people and there is tremendous opportunity to bring sophisticated legal work to the Twin Cities. In doing so, we help companies save tremendously to meet their legal needs and promote diversity in face of the changing reality of the legal industry.”
Lee Meyer, 35
Owner of Pete’s Water & Sewer, an underground utility company.
Revenue: $3-5 million
“Pete’s Water & Sewer is one of very few Native American-owned utility companies. There are singular challenges that a minority business faces. In addition the work we do on aging infrastructure affects every person in the metro area in a very concrete way.”
Matt Hilker, 35
Co-founder of Altrulytics, which helps organizations leverage technology to collect, manage, visualize and derive insights from data.
Revenue: less than $1 million
“Our tagline is ‘Doing Good with Data’ and we hope the world benefits from our work by empowering socially-conscious businesses to take advantage of data to make an even bigger impact in the world.”
Melissa Harrison, 35
CEO and founder of Allee Creative, a marketing and branding services company that provides successful planning and implementation in areas of marketing strategy, content, branding and online communication.
Revenue: $275,000 - $350,000
“I’ve worked hard to get where I’ve gotten and continue to work hard to push the envelope even more.”
Mike Jones, 35
CEO of Alchemy365, a new group fitness program launched in the North Loop in the past six months.
Revenue: First quarter’s revenues were $83,000. Company’s estimate for first year is $400,000
“Boutique group fitness programs are the fastest growing segment of the fitness industry.”