Post-it Note inventor: Supportive corporate culture is key to innovation

Art Fry wants the world to know: “Post-it Notes were not an accident.”

Fry should know. Local mythology notwithstanding, he was the one who actually invented 3M’s avatar of handiness, the “yellow stickies” ubiquitous in offices the world over.

Instead, Fry told a session on innovation last week at the University of Minnesota, Post-its were a natural outgrowth of the corporate culture at 3M — a culture that specifically encouraged the development of such innovations.

“If you save your money for a trip, and you go someplace that you’ve never been before, and you see new things that you didn’t know existed, it’s not an accident,” Fry said.

Today, innovation is the buzz word du jour in business circles, with companies in nearly every industry asking themselves how they can achieve the quality. Fry offered his insights last week to a group of medical technology professionals about what made 3M innovative in the mid-1970s. (Continue reading…)

Green cities spark demand for solar EV chargers

It’s known as the Windy City, but its vehicle fleet could someday be powered by the sun.

Chicago unveiled its first solar electric-vehicle charging station this month as part of a campaign to bolster the city’s green cred in its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. The 2.4-kilowatt battery system is small, but it demonstrates how city vehicles might someday be powered by a completely carbon-free fuel source: the sun.

The station is among only a handful of solar-powered vehicle chargers in the United States, and perhaps the first in the Midwest. They’re few in numbers in part because electric vehicles are still few in number. Solar-powered charging stations are also more expensive than stations that draw electricity from the grid.

But the solar-powered chargers make a powerful symbolic statement: These vehicles run on clean energy, not fossil fuels. (Continue reading…)

Minnesota, Canadian bioscience firms collaborating across border

Reggie Bowerman is a Midwestern kind of guy.

So when his employer of nearly a decade, MGI Pharma, packed up and moved to New Jersey last year, Bowerman was one of several local employees who chose not to make the move.

Instead, he became CEO of DiaMedica, a pharmaceutical company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“I made an assumption that [Canadians] might look at the world with more of the same perspective than a guy from Manhattan might. Since then, it’s been nothing but reinforced,” said Bowerman, who is based in the Twin Cities and commutes to Winnipeg as necessary.

Bowerman’s story is an example of the growing number of cross-border ties between Minnesota-based biotech communities and their Canadian counterparts. The trend comes on the heels of several years of networking efforts by Minnesota bioscience boosters, who believe the state could be on the cusp of a sea change of collaboration with our neighbors to the north. (Continue reading…)

Opening up the big box: Best Buy and social networking

My article about Best Buy’s social-networking efforts is now on newstands in the April 2009 issue of Twin Cities Business magazine.

It was a fascinating story to report. The retailer is using an internal social network called Blue Shirt Nation, as well as Twitter, to radically change the way it interact with its employees and customers.

My interviews with Best Buy employees left me thinking every news organization in the country would benefit from being more like Best Buy. When communicating with readers and sources, be honest and transparent. Be human.

Craigslist meets Facebook on ‘social classifieds’ site

wanted: looking for online classifieds site that helps me connect with my community and avoid anonymous transactions. will pay modest membership fee for premium features. Location: Twin Cities

A local Web start-up is out to prove that it can make a difference by connecting buyers and sellers. is among a crop of new “social classifieds” services. The sites integrate classified ads with elements of social networking such as user profiles and friend lists.

What makes unique, its founders say, is its hyper-local focus. The site lets users share and browse ads in their own neighborhoods, schools and church congregations.

The website is the product of three entrepreneurs — Josh Becerra, Colin Hirdman and Zack Steven — who grew up together in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood. All three have experience starting and running companies. They reconnected four years ago, and decided to create a business that would do well by doing good. Continue reading “Craigslist meets Facebook on ‘social classifieds’ site”