What I’m Working On

In this deadline-free, holiday-bookended week, I have to admit my work-motivation levels have been fairly low. A friend is visiting from out of town and in a few hours I’ll probably pack things up for the year and take tomorrow off. Here’s what I’ll be working on come Monday morning:

The Line: We’ll have a holiday half-issue on Wednesday of next week. I’ll have a report on the Center for Energy and Environment creating green jobs in 2010, as well as a brief about a south Minneapolis beauty shop that’s found an innovative way to streamline its scheduling. And before deadline on Monday morning I’ll be interviewing Tim Kapsner of Aveda about an upcoming green chemistry forum in the Twin Cities.

(Side note: Effective the end of January I’ll be stepping down as The Line’s innovation and jobs editor. It’s been a fun gig, but planning and writing an entire section every week has also scattered my energy/attention in more directions than I would like it to go. I plan to continue my relationship with The Line as a freelance writer, just not quite as regular as it’s been these past several months.)

MedCity Life: Earlier this winter I accepted a position as Twin Cities Editor of MedCity Life, a new city guide site for the medical industry. It’ll be a sibling site to MedCity News and is scheduled to launch on Jan. 15. I’ve spent the past several weeks asking people in the medical industry (hospitals, med-tech, etc.) about where they socialize and network. What are the go-to lunch, coffee, and happy hour spots where they’re likely to bump into their peers? What are the power breakfast spots? Where do people go to impress potential customers/partners or blow their expense accounts? Ideas? Let me know!

Mobile Devices: I’m working on a story for Twin Cities Business about how companies/organizations are making decisions about what mobile devices/platforms to support, and how they’re dealing with the rise in requests from employees who want to be able to check their work e-mail, calendars, etc., on popular consumer mobile devices such as the iPhone or Droid. If you’re a CIO or someone else who makes these kind of decisions, I’ll love to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons and complications related to mobile support.

Insurance & Climate Change: I’m working on my first assignment for Momentum, a great magazine affiliated with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. The topic is insurance companies and climate change. I’m looking for sources who can help me understand how the insurance industry is responding to or preparing for climate change. If you know anyone who might have some insights in this area, give me a shout.

See you in the new year!

dan at danhaugen dot com

P.S. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to blog/share more in this space. We’ll see…

06.18.10 notes, links

Way too much on my plate this morning, so I need to keep this brief. I’ll be unpacking my thoughts/notes today on last night’s Policy & A Pint on “Cities, Bicycling and the Future of Getting Around.” I’m also going to be talking/playing phone tag with a few more entrepreneurs I want to feature in next week’s issue of The Line.

I’m going to get straight into the links now:

The Seward Co-op celebrated its new 32-kilowatt rooftop solar photovoltaic system with a “commissioning party” on Thursday. The array was installed by Solarflow Energy, a Seward neighborhood company that is trying to prove a solar leasing model. I wrote about ’em this week for The Line.

, an Eden Prairie medical device startup, announced an extra infusion of cash from its existing investors. The company makes an imaging product that it believes can help doctors diagnose and document prostrate cancers. Thomas Lee wrote late last year that the company may have a hard time convincing reimbursers that the product is necessary. I was humming the Yeah Yeah Yeahs after reading this story in the Star Tribune this morning: an airline worker in Arkansas came across a container of human heads and head parts on their way to Medtronic that were apparently not packed or labeled properly. The state confiscated the body parts until it can confirm they were obtained legally.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development announced May job numbers on Thursday. Minnesota employers created a net 5,600 jobs during the month while unemployment fell to an even 7 percent from 7.1 percent in April. It was the second consecutive month of job gains — a first since Jan.-Feb. 2008. U.S. Census hiring is responsible for a large chunk of the increase, but private employers in the state still created 2,600 jobs. Construction and financial services were the only sectors that didn’t see growth. I spoke with an official from an IT staffing agency in the Twin Cities, who told me that it’s placing a lot more web and app developers than it was a year ago, although much of the activity is temporary contract work.

St. Paul co-working center kicks off Startup Saturdays theme

Starting your own company doesn’t have to mean working alone.

A St. Paul co-working center recently kicked off a new Startup Saturdays theme. The 3rd Place, 2190 Como Ave., is one of two co-working centers that opened in the city earlier this year. The other is CoCo in Lowertown St. Paul.

Co-working centers are meant to be an alternative to the kitchen table or coffee shop for self-employed and telecommuting professionals, who typically pay a membership fee for access to a workstation, Internet connection and other office amenities.

The 3rd Place, a project of the social-media marketing firm Monkey Island, centers on the hope that a handful of aspiring tech startups will decide to take their projects out of the garage or basement and into its co-working space one day a week.

The sessions are free during the month of May. Amenities include high-speed wi-fi, whiteboards, and a conference room with a projector, but co-founder Zack Steven said the real reason to participate is the chance to be around other startup-minded people.

The real benefit is getting to “talk to people who have done it, and are doing it, and dedicate time to it so you can actually find out if what you’re working on is worth while from a market/business standpoint,” Steven said.

So far, Startup Saturdays have no formal program or curriculum — participants just show up between 9 and 5 — but Steven said they’re talking with local tech groups about possibly developing sessions specifically aimed at entrepreneurs.

Originally published May 26, 2010, by The Line Media.

Minnesota may start applications for $11M in angel tax credits before Aug. 1

Minnesota economic officials expect applications to be available for the state’s angel investor tax credit before the Aug. 1 deadline set by the Legislature.

Dan McElroy, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, told an audience Monday that his department hopes to have documents related to the tax credit posted on its website as soon as July 1.

McElroy spoke at an angel tax credit panel discussion at ADC Auditorium presented by several local science and technology organizations.

The Angel Tax Credit was signed into law April 1. It set aside $11 million in 2010 and $12 million for each of the following four years for a 25-percent tax credit for investment in Minnesota technology startups.

“We’re most interested in jobs, and good paying jobs,” McElroy said. “We’d love to see a couple relatively early successes.”

Among the criteria for companies to qualify: They must be less than 10 years old and have fewer than 25 employees. Their headquarters and more than half their payroll and employees must be in Minnesota, and all employees must make at least $18.55. Qualifying companies also need to be using or researching proprietary technology in a high-technology field.

More information is available at http://www.positivelyminnesota.com/angelcredit

Originally published May 26, 2010, by The Line Media.

Smart-grid software maker OSI to break ground on $20 million Medina headquarters

An energy management software company is expanding in the western suburbs.

Open Systems International broke ground Friday on a new $20 million corporate headquarters in Medina. The 100,000-square-foot building will be LEED-Gold certified and incorporate some of the company’s own energy management technologies.

“We are growing rapidly, leaps and bounds, and the space we’re in right now just isn’t able to accommodate our fast growth any more,” said Mimi Nelson, OSI’s director of marketing and communication.

The privately held company currently employs about 240 people in Plymouth, where it rents space in an office park. The new headquarters, on the corner of Highway 55 and Arrowhead Drive, will put everyone under the same roof and allow Open Systems to add more employees.

OSI, which was founded in 1992, makes automation software for the gas, electric, and transportation industries that allows companies to monitor and control their systems. A couple of years ago the company started upgrading its software to support smart-grid projects.

Originally published May 26, 2010, by The Line Media.

St. Paul nonprofit offers mobile phones to homeless job-seekers

Could mobile phones help the homeless find permanent shelter?

A St. Paul nonprofit started distributing cell phones last month to homeless residents. It’s part of a small pilot program to show how cell phones can help people in transition find jobs and permanent housing, as well as stay better connected with family, friends and agencies.

“There’s just no way to survive in this world without a phone. It really puts people further out of the mainstream than they are already,” says Marcy Shapiro, executive director of Twin Cities Community Voice Mail.

The cell phone pilot is a first step toward updating the group’s model for the wireless era. Twin Cities Community Voice Mail has offered free phone numbers and voice-mail accounts to low-income Minnesotans since 1994. Today, finding pay phones to retrieve and respond to voice-mails is increasingly difficult. Meanwhile, many employers and landlords expect people to be reachable on demand. Missed phone calls can mean missed opportunities.

The phones are being distributed by three partner agencies, the Dorothy Day Center, the St. Paul YWCA and Face to Face Safe Zone, which are offering the phones to participants in a federally funded Rapid Re-housing program. The cell phone plans are covered for six months, after which participants can keep the phone and number.

Similar experiments have been tried in Fort Worth, Tex., and Washington, D.C., but Shapiro believes the program is the first of its kind in Minnesota and among the first in the nation.

The trial is being funded through a $12,000 grant from the St. Paul Foundation that will cover the cost of 30 phones. Long-term funding is the major challenge. Voice mail accounts cost the organization about $10 per month per client, but cell phones cost three times that amount. After much research, the nonprofit settled on a $30 monthly plan from Virgin Mobile that includes 300 daytime and 1,000 night/weekend minutes.

“The money is what’s really kept people from doing it,” she says. “The need is there. It’s really just about figuring out how to pay for it.”

Originally published May 26, 2010, by The Line Media.