6:00 PM (or so) – Commencing brain overload: Standing by.
Traipsing around in a suit coat that I am never comfortable wearing, it took a few tries to find The Local, an Irish pub in the heart of central Minneapolis.
“Ah. There it is…” I thought to myself, staring at corner of Right There and In Front of Me.
I headed in.
You see, this place was hosting a prologue event for the Cleantech Open: Midwest business clinic at St. Thomas. I certainly did not know what to expect, but I figured the next few days were not going to be boring.
Through the murmurs of conversation about stillage and fission recycling, “Here, put this orange dot on your nametag,” called Steve, slapping a sticker on my badge.
I took my coat off and sat down.
My first conversation was with two smart fellas who crafted a method of processing food waste into clean (like pathogen free) food for agriculture.
Keller and Derek might actually be able to reduce food waste to zero, globally.
This was my first conversation and it turns out this was as casual as it was going to get that week.
Enter Ian and, give or take a few zeros, he was easily 4.98×10^9 times smarter than me. Did that discourage me from attempting to carry on a conversation?
He introduced me to his project: recycling the extra bits from the fission process. He turns the ‘waste’ into super batteries, which can power things like medical devices and high-orbiting satellites.
“Dude, you are a genius!” I exclaimed. “I need a beer.”
Beer-thirty – Drinking it all in.
After a half-dozen tries of convincing our server that, “I really want to try YOUR favorite beer,” he finally obliged and my conversations resumed.
Still in my chair, my mentor introduced himself to me. Garrick Villaume found out two days before the clinic that he was stuck with the guy who is building a drone-services platform.
The excitement continued. In comes Sue Marshall, down sits Steve Webster, and across from Garrick and me is Paul Taylor.
Everyone should make a point to chat with Paul. He delighted the four of us with an uncensored tale of his time as a caboose engineer and traveling through the middle of nowhere, North Dakota…which is where I live now.
“Time to roam around,” I thought. It was important for me to meet all the other folks there.
I did not wander far.
The next table over was home to ultra durable 3D printing, gorgeously designed wearable technologies, a top quality water purification system, and a serial executive.
“Hi!” Cora, Rama, Jessica, and Lois were the recipients of four righteous high-fives and allowed me to participate in a casually cerebral conversation on world changing ideas.
My brain got punched in the face for two hours straight.
“Just wait until tomorrow!” smiled Jessica. “Do you have your quick-pitch ready?”
9:00 PM – Vodka and advocacy.
BONUS: I went to Moscow on the Hill, a couple blocks from my hotel, for a nightcap. I introduced myself to the only other person there. Kris was reading “Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg. Turns out she is a public policy advocate for the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance and was speaking the very next day.
She gave me some tips on pitching. Among them: “Be casual” and “Slow the F#&% down”
Useful. Very, very useful.
8:16 AM – Pitches be crazy.
I am not in Fargo, anymore.
My ten mile drive to St. Thomas took 76 minutes. That was exciting!
After I arrived it began raining. Hard. And I parked six blocks away. And I was sixteen minutes late.
That didn’t get me down, oh no. I walked in, soaking wet and was greeted by the ever-vibrant Sue Marshall.
Then following, I was greeted by the team extraordinaire for sustainable polymers, Holly and Dante, who also happen to be fellow Fargonians.
Last, before the brain ass-kicking began again, I shared a cordial nod with Orlando, who simply understands the need of geospatial datasources in precision agriculture.
The official day started with a quick pitch from each of the couple dozen groups. 1,440 consecutive seconds of mind-blowing introductions.
I was last, but not lost. I pitched and I learned a lot about myself in those 60 moments. I guess that is what the CTO accelerator is all about, eh?
Oh, but it was just getting started.
Scott Propp opened the day’s presentations with a message about “the culture of helpfulness: a key to success”. That resonated with me, as this is already a passion of mine. The idea of collaborative competition.
Immediately following was a useful and animated panel discussion on marketing. Two folks sitting next to me, seemed to agree…Marj Weir is a modern renaissance woman with a taste for design and Lance Ramm had probably the most badass clean-watch I have ever seen.
Then, it got real; reviews.
12:30 PM – Reviews.
Still chowing on our food, we all dug in to the afternoon with “Business Plan” reviews.
The accelerator participants sat in one place, spaced across a half dozen rooms, and each of the four groups we met with were frantically searching for companies they couldn’t pronounce. Butchering our last names was the norm.
From the startup perspective, it was quite refreshing.
I really enjoyed observing this.
Anyhow, I always enjoy learning about IP. Richard Billion, the father of a national wrestling champ, was my first session and offered valuable insight on software dev concerns I had.
He has “over 30 Billion years experience in law”.
Michael Conroy was my second one-on-one. His objective was to review my business model, P&Ls, and growth projections. He didn’t like what he saw…probably because I didn’t have anything to show him. However, things took a relatively good turn when I told him he could shape me like clay.
He perked up and made me his financial minion for 40 minutes.
Next on the list was Ryan Stein. I’ll probably hire him for work at some point. He is a designer, marketer, and generalist…those are the kind of people I put in my life.
Then in struts Sue Marshall and Lois Josefson. It was a perfect ending to my two hours of my making-stuff-up-as-I-go-along.
Sue and Lois immediately saw that I was already building my supply chain of pilots, demand list of clients (for the pilots), and looking for third-party groups to add great experiences to the former groups.
They helped me do the thing called work. And they did it in my style: Go all over the board and arrive at a fantastic and pinpointed conclusion…a call-to-action.
3:45ish PM – “Anybody wanna peanut?”
Kelsey Underwood gave us a taste of what it means to present your idea, project your emotion, and outline your authenticity.
What’s mind blowing to me is that she pitched to us a pitch about pitching perfectly. How recursively introspective…and extremely valuable!
no1 gets funded. EVARRR.
I can’t remember the dude’s name (Rajiv maybe?) that presented next, but this is what stuck for me…He said, “99.7% of all ventures are not suitable for, nor attract, venture funding.”
That is so exciting for a budding entrepreneur to hear! *shakes head depressively*
That said, the other part that stuck out was, “No one can say if the idea is good or bad (succeed or fail)…this is realized down the road.” When you are looking for capital, you are selling yourself WAY more than the product.
Probably why three out of every thousand companies get funding and in the words of my native language, “Uff da!”
5:30 PM (precisely) – Mingling.
Twenty-three hours after my first brain social (at the Local), I felt I was prepared for this one.
That was incorrect.
The apps were delicious, though I hardly had a moment to consume because I had so many questions for the folks I mingled with.
Also, I love talking.
To start the onslaught of more brain ass-kicking, I learn that Steve (Lipka) takes the stillage from making bourbon and processes the proteins and fats left over for animal feed (e.g. cattle, sheep, horses).
He had me at “bourbon”.
Lee Skaalrud, Kelsey Underwood, Drew Dale, and Connie Bowen all decidedly listened to the ‘pitch’ about my drone-services platform. I may have droned on too long, however. But this is why we were there; a work in progress, eh?
Beer-thirty – The Argonne way of life.
Eight of us went to dinner. Somewhere. Can’t remember the name, but the fish and chips were good in my mouth.
Also, when I pulled the beer choice-deferment stunt with our server, he quickly responded, “Ya, I gotcha bro. I’ll be right back.”
I’m somebody’s bro! But I digress…
Jessica and Ian I had already been introduced to by this time, but it was Erika, who is innovating how we utilize wind in urban environments, and the “Argonne Army” that I hadn’t had the pleasure of chatting with, ‘till now.
Did you know that you can make a cube of fungus that, while it is the size of a crouton, has a surface area of a football field?
I also did not know that! But apparently this is a typical breakthrough for Argonne Nation 🙂
Ok, it was time for me to go home and bang my head against the wall (again). So. Much. Data.
6:30 AM – “Let’s do this!”
Pro tip: Driving in the cities at 6:30am does not take 1 hour to go 10 miles. It only takes an hour when you leave at 6:50…
Well, I was aggressively early on the final morning of the Cleantech Open.
I sat down and after about twenty minutes, in comes Channon Lemon sitting down next to me. Her business card says Executive Leader, which was interesting to see. After chatting with her, it is the correct title.
Shortly after, Gina Schrader from Next Challenge sits at the table adjacent from ours. Her program is geared for Smart City development across the country.
That is a seriously sweet program and her presentation gave us all a full scope of that idea.
Speaking of sweet, Michael Chaney turned his radio voice on and…
“North Minneapolis is going green,
Give us a call and learn what we mean.
Where once lie urban blight,
Now sits luscious garden sights.
Gardens without borders,
Classrooms without walls,
Architects of our own destinies,
Access to food, justice for all.”
This was an excerpt from the panel discussion Michael spoke to, regarding Project Sweetie Pie.
No, I could not remember the exact poem lol. I pulled it from http://threesixtyjournalism.org/projectsweetiepie
12:00 PM – More business-y stuff.
Round two of “business plan” reviews kicked off for me with Mark Borman. His bailiwick is CFO work. His prior accomplishments involve raising a couple-few billion dollars, real quick, for companies at all stages of their life.
He definitely had my attention.
The next round of reviews was conducted by Patrick Saxton. The focus was on various fundraising opportunities available for software groups (e.g. crowdfunding, competitions, accelerators).
But after a few short minutes, I come to find out he is working on a project for real-time streaming software for drone racing leagues…
He also had my attention.
My last one-on-one round was with Tariq Samad, Ph. D. – Honeywell/W.R. Sweet Chariot in the Management of Technology Adjunct Faculty. Electrical & Computer Engineering at the Technological Leadership Institute for the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota.
I recall an adage about the titles on business cards: the longer they are, the less they do.
Not in Tariq’s case.
What piqued my interest was that he was with one of the first groups to create a ground control system to pilot multiple drones, simultaneously… about ten years ago!
Yes. He, too, had my attention.
3:05 PM – The after part.
I head outside to go home and of course I had to have just one more chat with a fellow CTO participant.
At the ripe age of 19, this kid shoots lasers at coal. “Through this process,” he states, “you’ll use less coal at a refinery.”
Pretty sure he isn’t looking at the bigger picture, like the fact that it probably cost 100x more energy to save 20% coal… and the lasers probably need to be the size of US Bank Stadium. (This is Ian’s estimation, not mine)
Oh, to be young again.
3:35 PM – The after part 2.
My brain was ready for a coma, after the rigorous CTO clinic.
So, I did the logical thing: I continued to push my mental capacity (accelerating senescence, I’m sure) and met up with Ian, Erika, and Justin at Hopcat, which is a few blocks from St. Thomas.
Either the conversation here was not as intense as the last few days, or I had actually built up a tolerance to genius.
Probably the former.
6-ish PM – WINDING DOWN.
After Justin and Ian left, Erika and I hung around for one more because I wanted to know all I could about the plans of this Fulbright Fellow.
“Robert!” I call to our server. “Where’s a good place for a nightcap and you’re going to join us, right!?”
“Also, where is your significant other? More the merrier!” I shamelessly exclaimed.
Turns out, Robert’s significant other works at NASA and might be exactly what Erika was looking for to capitalize on the next step of her plans. Or not. Who knows…
We finished our drinks and apps, then hung out with Robert and one of his friends for the remainder of the evening. Just taking in the Minneapolis nightlife.
You never know who you are going to meet or who you’ll connect with.
Nuclear batteries, making gold from coal and lasers, and obliterating food waste are not my forte.
Though, thanks to this clinic, I realized I am decent at empathizing, connecting, and discovering in general.