Use the links below to navigate through the list of Honorees.
Chris and Danielle Bjorling
Michelle Miller Burns
Lauren Mehler Pradhan
Dr. Craig Samitt
Director of baseball operations
As the Twins continue to evolve under the leadership of chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, one of the biggest changes in the organization’s emphasis is in its use of data. Analytics is the hot trend in professional sports, and it is hardly a fixed target. Companies and innovators (some profiled in this feature) are revolutionizing the way long-hidebound sports institutions think about and understand themselves. Daniel Adler is charged with husbanding the ever-growing volume of data pouring into One Twins Way with an eye to turning it into meaningful information the team can use. And it’s not just about defensive shifts or launch angles; the sport is actively looking to manage data to help keep players healthy and increase fan engagement.
Green Garden Bakery
At 17 years old, Leensa Ahmed leads a youth-run bakery in North Minneapolis. Ahmed, along with a group of teens, founded Green Garden Bakery in 2014. Vegetables grown in the bakery’s community garden are used to make healthy desserts, which student workers sell at farmers’ markets, festivals, and online; a third of the bakery’s profits are donated to the community. This summer, Ahmed and her team raised more than $200,000 to open a commercial kitchen, which will allow them to sell wholesale. She is also helping create an alumni board so that members can serve as mentors after they graduate from high school.
Bridgewater Bancshares Inc.
Most entrepreneurs looking to start a business probably wouldn’t open a new bank. Baack was the principal founder of Bloomington-based Bridgewater Bancshares in 2005, with a plan to focus on commercial real estate lending. The gamble has paid off, particularly in the post-recession building boom. Bridgewater is among a small number of Minnesota companies to go public in recent years; the bank completed its IPO in March. At the end of June, it had $1.46 billion in loans, up 25 percent from the same period a year ago. Fueled by growth, the company broke ground in August for a new 84,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in St. Louis Park, which is set to open in the first quarter of 2020.
Chris and Danielle Bjorling
The Copper Hen
Danielle Bjorling is a pastry chef and baker. Her husband, Chris, has an accounting background. They plowed some profits from managing rental properties into Danielle’s dream, a cake-driven restaurant on Eat Street (Nicollet Avenue) in South Minneapolis. The original Copper Hen Cakery opened in 2014 to strong word-of-mouth reviews and remains busy today. The couple is in expansion mode for the months ahead, adding a private dining space to their home base, opening Gray Fox Coffee in the TCF Bank tower in downtown Minneapolis, and developing Copper Cow, a burger-focused joint in Minnetonka. In an interview with TCB, Chris had lamented the complexity and unpredictability of the restaurant business, but the couple seems to have things well in hand today.
Michelle Miller Burns
Michelle Miller Burns was hired to lead the Minnesota Orchestra as it is earning applause on a global stage. Miller Burns, who came to Minnesota after serving as COO of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, joined the Minnesota Orchestra on a tour of South Africa in August, just before succeeding Kevin Smith as CEO. He was charged with rebuilding relationships and revamping the organization’s business model after a bruising 15-month musicians’ lockout that ended in 2014. Miller Burns, cited for her fundraising prowess and collaborative style, is expected to provide the financial support that allows the organization to reach its top-level artistic goals.
In the six years since Ben Cattoor launched Foodsby in the Twin Cities, the Minneapolis-based company has expanded into 14 new markets. In August, Foodsby raised $13.5 million to expand to an additional 15 to 25 markets. Cattoor’s decision to target businesses rather than individuals has allowed his company to grow quickly in an untapped part of the restaurant delivery market. Foodsby is a subscription-based service that coordinates deliveries between restaurants and office buildings to reduce the number of deliveries made to the same building. In September, Cattoor brought on former Buffalo Wild Wings executive Alex Ware as president.
Duluth Seaway Port Authority
Deb DeLuca is the first woman to take charge of the Duluth port. Named executive director in August, she had served as the Port Authority’s government and environmental affairs director since 2014. The Port Authority doesn’t just make sure the ore boats and other ships can safely navigate the harbor; it’s also charged with broader economic development. The port is thriving—so much so that the authority had to move its offices away from the dock to make room for businesses to expand. As the port’s new captain, DeLuca will be looking for ways to help expand the city’s industrial base; Duluth’s economy, after all, is not just driven by tourists.
Hot Indian Foods
Amol Dixit is determined to conquer the Midwest’s fear of Indian food. The former General Mills executive launched his bright and friendly Hot Indian food truck in 2013 focused on selling “indurritos”: roti-wrapped tikka masala and other Indian fillings served like a burrito. Dixit believed he would have to overcome cultural barriers to have a chance of becoming a successful multi-unit brand, which is rare for Indian restaurants. Dixit asked customers to do a little Bollywood dancing to get $1 off—and boy, did they. Hot Indian opened a counter spot in Midtown Global Market, then an outpost at Target Field. This year, new locations in the Minneapolis skyway and Mall of America sported disco balls near the registers. If his plan works, Dixit and company will be dancing into a neighborhood near you soon enough.
The $12 billion health care institution known as Mayo Clinic has a tradition of rotating out top leadership every seven to 10 years. Current CEO John Noseworthy was asked to break the trend and stay on, but with nine years at the top, he picked the last day of 2018 as his time to exit. Taking the reins will be Gianrico Farrugia, a 30-year veteran of the Rochester nonprofit, who has run its Florida operations for four years. Like his predecessor, Farrugia came in as a medical professional (he’s a gastroenterologist). He’ll be tasked with fine-tuning Mayo’s structure, including the organization’s $800 million expansion plan for Arizona and Florida and its $6 billion Destination Medical Center build-out in its home city.
With the Minnesota Wild failing to make it past the first round of NHL playoffs the last three seasons, owner Craig Leipold decided to shake things up this year. After nine years with Chuck Fletcher as the Wild’s general manager, Leipold replaced Fletcher with Paul Fenton. While Fenton has served as the assistant general manager of the Nashville Predators since 2006, his role with the Wild will be his first time fully in charge of a team. With several new players, and Leipold eager to win the Stanley Cup, Fenton has his work cut out for him.
Vice president of environmental impact and policy
Askov Finlayson made national headlines in January with a pledge to begin calculating the annual cost of its carbon footprint and donate 110 percent of that amount to organizations dedicated to ameliorating climate change. Adam Fetcher holds the calculator, and he’s advising company owner Eric Dayton on where to write the check. A Minnesota native, Fetcher served as deputy national press secretary for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and went on to serve as communications director for Patagonia, perhaps the highest-profile environmentally active clothing brand. His arrival at Askov Finlayson in 2017 was a sign that the North Loop retailer and apparel wholesaler is ready to act on its “Keep the North Cold” campaign. Fetcher’s goal is to prove that a small company can create a new model for mission-driven retail.
After initially joining Recombinetics in 2016 as corporate affairs chief, Tammy Lee took over as CEO in 2017 just as the emerging gene-editing company was working on a $34 million Series A funding, led by Gundersen Health System of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Now Lee—with deep experience in senior leadership at Carlson Cos., Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, and other big corporate players—is trying her hand at guiding a biotech startup in the rapidly commercializing fields of regenerative medicine and genomics-based animal health. Both Lee and the company have strong connections to the University of Minnesota, creating strong opportunities for synergies.
The person who leads Minnesota’s system of 30 community and technical colleges and seven state universities must have credibility with many constituencies—students, faculty, college administrators, employers, legislators, and the governor. Devinder Malhotra, who was serving as interim chancellor, accepted an offer in March to become permanent chancellor. Malhotra, a former Metropolitan State University president, won the trustees’ support after two national searches over two years failed to produce a consensus candidate. Now Malhotra is focusing on increasing the degree-completion rate, meeting employer needs during a workforce shortage, and building a financially sustainable higher education system.
With fantasy sports a growing market, Teague Orgeman launched Starting 11 two years ago to offer a fantasy app for soccer fans. Based in Minneapolis, Starting 11 is the first live fantasy platform that allows users to make real-time substitutions. The app is only available for the UK’s Premier League, but Orgeman is working on adding other leagues, including Europe’s Champions League and U.S. Major League Soccer (MLS). The app was also available during the 2018 World Cup, allowing users to build teams with World Cup players. Orgeman projects Starting 11 will grow to 500,000 users by 2020.
Minnesota is thick with med-tech and health care startups, but Minneapolis-based OneOme stands out. The company landed a coveted spot on Fast Company’s 2018 World’s Most Innovative Companies list. Paul Owen was tapped as president and COO in 2015 and became CEO in 2016. OneOme’s RightMed product can be used with a DNA analysis to create a report to avoid or minimize adverse drug reactions in patients. He previously led global commercialization efforts for San Francisco-based Invitae Corp. and was Mayo Clinic’s vice chair of global business development. He has the experience to build OneOme into a big player in the emerging field of pharmacogenomics, a blend of pharmacology and genomics.
Luxury women’s footwear brand Marion Parke lacks the name recognition—and, based in Minneapolis, the posh address—of Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo, but it has something those industry giants don’t: a foot surgeon at the helm. Parke stepped away from her podiatry practice to launch a shoe collection that balances fashion with function. Ask any woman at the end of a cocktail party, and she’ll tell you a chic 3-inch heel that doesn’t kill your feet is worth $650 per pair. The owners of Minnetonka Moccasin agree; they recently came on board as Parke’s first investors and advisors. Just two years in, Marion Parke shoes, produced in a top Italian factory, are already sold at Bloomingdale’s and top boutiques nationwide. Parke says 2019 promises to be a big growth year, with plans for a wholesale expansion and a big direct-to-consumer push.
Can Can Wonderland
Jennifer Pennington, her husband, Chris, and two friends founded Can Can Wonderland in 2017. Less than a year after opening the whimsical indoor mini-golf course in St. Paul, Pennington announced plans for a $1 million expansion. It’s now grown to a $2 million plan that will add 15,000 square feet of space and include private karaoke rooms, an event space, a nursing room, and a multi-sensory art exhibit. Pennington expects everything to be complete by the end of the year. Her team of 78 is raising money for another new concept for 2019.
Lauren Mehler Pradhan
Lauren Mehler Pradhan turns passion into action. With a broad mission of improving the food system—and making sure Minnesota leads the charge—she spearheaded the Twin Cities’ inaugural Food, Ag, Ideas Week, which brought together more than 1,000 people from all segments of the food chain, including Fortune 500 executives, entrepreneurs, growers, retailers, investors, and nonprofit leaders. It was her highest-profile success to date as founding director of Grow North, an initiative of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota that is funded in large part by General Mills, where Pradhan worked for 12 years. At Grow North, she’s connecting the dots throughout the food ecosystem in a new way.
Love Your Melon
Love Your Melon’s new high-profile North Loop studio is the latest big idea from co-founder Zachary Quinn, a risk-taker born of the social media age, in which you’ve got to keep surprising fans to stay on their radar. The studio is only open a few days per month for new product “drops.” “We have to keep it fresh and new all the time,” says Quinn, who transitioned from CEO to president this year—a reflection of his role as “visionary” for the philanthropic knitwear brand, which started with headgear; it reported $31.5 million in revenue in 2017 and donates half its profits to pediatric cancer organizations. Quinn is pushing the brand to think beyond digital, with retail partnerships like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Von Maur, and to come up with more products, like sweaters and blankets. “We’re not just a beanie company,” he says.
Mike Rolih was an all-state high school athlete in Chicago who later played minor-league baseball, then coached and scouted for a couple of professional baseball teams. Along the way, he earned a master’s degree in science and technology. Rolih came up with the concept of wearable technology and playmaking software that allows football teams to practice plays more quickly; that became the basis of Rochester-based GoRout, which kicked off in 2013. The company has scored quickly. Dozens of high schools and colleges are using its technology. And in August, GoRout pulled in $1 million in additional seed financing. That should help it add more schools to its roster—and develop new products.
After a 13-year period in which 3M Corp. was led by European-born CEOs (Englishman George Buckley from 2005 to 2011 and Sweden’s Inge Thulin from 2012 to 2018), the multinational this year went back into the hands of a Midwesterner and University of Minnesota graduate. Wisconsin native Michael Roman earned an electrical engineering degree from the U’s Institute of Technology in the early 1980s before launching a 30-year career at the $32 billion industrial giant, culminating in his appointment as CEO in March. He is expected to focus on strategic acquisitions, building on Thulin’s successful efforts to improve profitability.
Dr. Craig Samitt
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota
Craig Samitt took the reins of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota this summer following the departure of former CEO Michael Guyette and now will guide the state’s largest insurer through a big change—the discontinuance of “Medicare Cost” health plans in Minnesota at the end of this year. Their elimination will make the competition for the remaining Medicare plan business significantly tighter, but BCBS believes it has its man in Samitt. He came to the $12.5 billion nonprofit from for-profit insurer Anthem Inc., where he was credited with providing it with new sources of growth, among other accomplishments.
Starting as a college student inspired to connect people to nature through everyday products made of sustainably sourced wood, Ben VandenWymelenberg has become a serial entrepreneur with interests in commercial real estate, entrepreneurship, and environmentalism. Woodchuck, with a staff of 52, is a go-to custom gift vendor for companies as large as Google and U.S. Bank. But he wants to diversify. Woodchuck added a commercial interiors division this year and plans a big push into brick-and-mortar retail in 2019. VandenWymelenberg also co-owns North Co., the Northeast Minneapolis building that houses Woodchuck and 22 other locally owned companies. He and his two partners have snapped up 10 surrounding buildings and plan to develop a campus for startups. Meanwhile, he purchased 150 acres north of Cushing, Minnesota, where Woodchuck will grow trees and research new species. His book, The World Needs Your F—ing Ideas, is due out early next year.
The Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation has been one of the key economic development and philanthropic engines of central Minnesota. Last year, the foundation, which gave out more than $10 million in grants in 2017, named its first new leader since its founding in 1986. Matt Varilek, a South Dakota native who was COO of the U.S. Small Business Administration before joining the foundation, is focusing its firepower on the mostly rural region’s current and future needs. Those include workforce development (including the region’s booming immigrant population) and even child care programs (crucial for luring young families). Central Minnesota is the state’s fastest-growing region. Look for Varilek and his team to come up with creative new ways to keep the 14-county region it supports moving forward.