Use the links below to navigate through the list of Honorees.
Joan T.A. Gabel
John Pacheco Jr.
Pahoua Yang Hoffman
Executive Director, Walker Art Center
When Mary Ceruti became the Walker’s executive director in early 2019, she stepped into a role left vacant for a year, following a contentious time in the Walker’s history. She had to hit the ground running while adjusting to a much larger environment than her previous one, the SculptureCenter in New York City. She’s since familiarized herself with the Walker’s extensive programming, overseen exhibition rollouts, and made her first big hire—a chief curator. Going forward, Ceruti will continue building out a leadership team, oversee future sculpture garden commissions, and lead the effort to find new ways to engage diverse audiences, all while facing the challenge of declining corporate and foundation support for the arts.
Editor/Executive Director, Sahan Journal
Do we really need one more media outlet? Mukhtar Ibrahim argues absolutely yes. Sahan Journal is an online news outlet focused squarely on covering the immigrant and refugee communities in Minnesota. Ibrahim, a native of Somalia, immigrated to Minnesota in 2005. Armed with journalism degrees from the U of M and Columbia University, he worked as a reporter for the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio. But he saw a gap in media coverage of immigrant and refugee perspectives and issues. Sahan launched in 2013 and relaunched in August, with backing from MPR; a month later it had already landed a $25,000 grant from the Facebook Journalism Project.
When Geoff Martha joined med-tech giant Medtronic in 2011 as senior vice president of strategy and business development, no one knew it had hired a future CEO. But in his eight years at the company, Martha’s had some big assignments. Most recently he was executive vice president and president of Medtronic’s Restorative Therapies Group, a division with more than $8 billion in annual revenue and about 14,000 employees. He takes the reins in late April with the pending retirement of CEO Omar Ishrak. Martha managed the integration of Medtronic with Covidien in 2015—a $50 billion acquisition—the largest med-tech merger in history.
VP Business Strategy & Analytics, Minnesota Twins
Two years ago, the Twins brought on Daniel Adler to make the organization state of the art in baseball analytics. A year ago, Jason Lee joined to do the same thing for the business side. Lee vets new product offerings and initiatives while exploring new approaches for existing data. But “data-driven orgs often miss the voice of the customer,” he says, so Lee is intent on maintaining their influence. For 2020, he’s keen to deploy tools to better understand each fan in the ballpark, not just the ticket purchaser, and try to quantify each fan’s spending over a season or longer, even when they use different means to purchase tickets, food, and merchandise. He’s also intent on revamping approaches to the team’s dynamic pricing and attendance forecasting, using data science and machine learning.
Founder/President/CEO, Table Trac
Chad Hoehne patented his table games management system back in 1996, designed to make life easier for casino management by automating table game operations. Hoehne launched Table Trac after a decade in management at Minneapolis-based electronics manufacturer Micro Control Co. Since development, Table Trac has been licensed at casinos in 13 states, 13 countries, and dozens of Native American casinos, with plans to capture business in the nascent Japanese gambling market. Over the summer, Table Trac signed an agreement with a Tokyo firm to market the system in Japan, which legalized gambling in 2018.
Shortly after becoming COO of CaringBridge in 2014, Liwanag Ojala was named CEO. Ojala, whose background was in for-profit e-commerce, was tasked with setting a vision and executing a new strategy for CaringBridge, a nonprofit online platform connecting users with loved ones undergoing health issues. She’s done just that, helping grow the company’s customer base and nearly doubling the donor base. Ojala has expanded partnerships, including one with GoFundMe, and under her leadership CaringBridge has updated its app and launched a relationship with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Moving forward, Ojala will look to keep CaringBridge up to date amid changing health care expectations and an increasingly mobile-focused consumer climate.
Managing Director, The Current (Minnesota Public Radio)
Back in 2005 the idea of a public radio network starting an alternative music station seemed like an experimental gamble. But The Current, which marks its 15th anniversary next month, has become a local institution. David Safar has been one of the key behind-the-scenes players in his 13 years there and has had a role in developing and creating features including the Song of the Day podcast, the “Local Current” CD series, and Microshow concerts. After seven years as music director, he was promoted to his new role in August to help guide The Current to new directions and audiences.
President/CEO, Deluxe Corp.
McCarthy is a new leader for a new era of Deluxe. He stepped in as CEO just over a year ago as the company worked to reposition itself from check printer to provider of small-business solutions. In April, Deluxe gave company stock to all North American employees and announced a company reorganization around its main products—payments, cloud-based services, promotional products, and checks—moving from a previous model organized around customer type. “We think that will give us more focus, allow us to make better investment decisions, and accelerate our organic revenue growth,” McCarthy says.
Founder, Mighteor; co-founder, Soona
Unable to find her dream job in traditional media, Elizabeth Giorgi created Mighteor, one of the first video production companies focused on creating content for the internet. Mighteor clients include Facebook, the NFL, and other big-budget brands. But Giorgi saw a hole in the market for smaller companies in need of quick-turn content. Earlier this year, she and a partner launched Soona, a same-day photo and video production studio that she describes as Kinko’s for the social media era. Soona opened storefronts in Minneapolis and Denver and is raising capital to expand. Now, Giorgi is speaking out on the sexual harassment and gender bias female founders often face when fundraising. Giorgi created a “candor clause” disclosure, which she encourages founders and investors to include in fundraising documents, that requires all parties to disclose whether they or any members of their team have ever been accused of sexual assault or gender-based discrimination.
The largest digital incubation platform for entrepreneurs with early-stage ideas, Twin Cities-based IdeaGist has participants in 195 countries pursuing more than 4,000 ideas. Hassan Syed’s vision to provide training through this platform for 1 million students was recently adopted by the prime minister’s office in Pakistan. To support the vision, IdeaGist plans to provide 600 educational institutions with business incubators and offer courses in seven emerging technologies. Once the model is firmed up in Pakistan, it is likely to be replicated in many of the countries where Syed already has a foothold.
Founding CEO, Venn Foundation
Jeff Ochs’ cause is to provide capital to entrepreneurs advancing a charitable purpose who can’t attract traditional angel investment. Venn offers below-market-rate loans, a crying need of companies. Ochs’ vehicles are called PRIs (short for “program-related investment”), unknown and underutilized outside of a very small group of foundations. Venn has raised nearly $1.8 million from donors and deployed more than $1 million of that into PRIs directed in all sectors that advance charitable goals.
Vice President of Asset Management, United Properties
EVP of Brand Strategy and Growth, Minnesota Twins
CEO, PaR Systems
The three sons of Robert Pohlad—Chris, Joe, and Tom—have taken on increasing responsibilities within Pohlad Cos. Founded by Carl Pohlad in the 1950s, the Pohlad businesses are quite diverse, which is reflected in the jobs held by the brothers who are part of the third generation in the family businesses. In 2020, Tom, the oldest grandson of Carl, will focus on growing PaR Systems, a Shoreview-based company the Pohlads acquired in 2017. It offers automation, robotics, and material handling solutions.
On the heels of the Twins’ 101 wins in the 2019 regular season, Joe will leverage that success with branding efforts for the 2020 season. Leadership of the Go Radio stations also reports to Joe.
Just blocks from Target Field in downtown Minneapolis is the huge RBC Gateway project. Chris is involved in the design and operations of the Four Seasons hotel, which will be part of this United Properties development. Chris returned to the Twin Cities two years ago after working in the NorthMarq Capital office in Seattle.
President, Minnesota Council on Foundations
Just the fifth president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF), Susie Brown joined the organization in April. Her 144 organization members range from family to corporate foundations and collectively award more than $1 billion a year. In 2020, MCF celebrates its 50th anniversary, and the organization will bring funders together to discuss how they can do a better job addressing economic equity and affordable housing issues. Brown is working to increase racial and ethnic diversity among foundation staffs. She also is a leader in supporting efforts to achieve a complete census count in 2020.
Executive Director, Launch Minnesota
In August, Neela Mollgaard became head of this new state program, which seeks to bring together private businesses and nonprofits to provide training and financial incentives to help entrepreneurs get started. Mollgaard has plenty of experience as founder and executive director at economic development nonprofit Red Wing Ignite. There she created a flourishing “ecosystem” in the Mississippi River city connecting entrepreneurs with mentors, technical expertise, potential investors, and business partners. Launch Minnesota will focus in particular on people such as veterans and people of color who often face greater barriers to making their visions real.
Chief Creative Officer, Yamamoto
Yamamoto’s new chief creative officer, Grant Smith, spent most of his career with BBDO New York working on big brands like AT&T, Visa, and FedEx. “I’ve always had an enormous amount of respect for the Minneapolis advertising community,” he observes. “So much amazing work has come out of this town.” Smith has his sights set on paying that forward. He’ll start by working on key Yamamoto accounts: Cargill, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, and Comcast. “I see enormous opportunities for growth here,” says Smith, who isn’t too nervous about his first Minnesota winter. After all, he grew up in Alaska.
Pahoua Yang Hoffman
Executive Director, Citizens League
In 2020, when partisan salvos will be exchanged on a daily basis, Pahoua Yang Hoffman will be leading the Citizens League, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to governing for the common good. Two years ago, Yang Hoffman was promoted to a leadership role after serving as the nonprofit’s policy director. The Citizens League wades into tough issues, including water quality and livable wages. Under Yang Hoffman, it’s becoming more diverse in membership. She also is overseeing programs designed to welcome more young professionals. One example is the “Policy on Tap” series, where participants discuss issues over beer at the Amsterdam Bar in St. Paul.
CEO, Greater MSP
Peter Frosch took the helm from Greater MSP’s founding CEO, Michael Langley, in March. Frosch knows the ropes. Greater MSP started in 2011; Frosch has been there since 2013. He most recently served as the organization’s senior vice president of strategy and partnerships and as chief of staff. Frosch created the MSP Regional Indicators Dashboard, which offers a quick but deep dive into regional economic data. That’s the kind of insight Greater MSP needs to trade on as it looks to the future.
John Pacheco Jr.
President, Latino Chamber of Commerce Minnesota
Launched in 2016, the Minneapolis-based Latino Chamber filled the gap left when the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Minnesota folded. Pacheco, a public affairs consultant for minority-focused nonprofits, has been at the helm of the new organization since its founding. His career as an executive at the Xcel Energy and U.S. Bank Foundations gives him valuable connections with corporate and government leadership.
CEO, Finnovation Lab
Jacquie Berglund, co-founder and CEO of Finnegans Brew Co., came up with the idea; now Connie Rutledge is making it happen. Minneapolis-based Finnovation Lab is a startup incubator/accelerator that offers workspace, training, and other support to social entrepreneurs—people addressing social challenges through financially sustainable businesses (people like Berglund, in other words)—to get their ideas going. Rutledge, whose background includes entrepreneurship education and co-founding a mobile phone accessory business, has gotten two cohorts established since becoming managing director early in 2019. The second cohort, announced in August, includes Litty Solar, a Brooklyn Park-based solar installation company that provides job opportunities in underserved communities.
Co-founder/CEO, StemoniX Inc.
Nanotechnologist Ping Yeh’s near-death experience from Hodgkin’s lymphoma led to the birth of Maple Grove-based biotech firm StemoniX. After his recovery, Yeh came to the conclusion that experimental pharmaceutical treatments, including the intensive chemo he underwent, need to be tested outside the body before they’re used. In 2014, he co-founded StemoniX, which develops “micro-organs” from stem cells in order to test and develop new drugs. One of its products is microBrain, which incorporates electrically active neurons. Last February, StemoniX secured $14.4 million in funding to develop its products and market them to therapeutics companies worldwide.
CEO, Reprise Biomedical Inc.
Powers has this Plymouth-based med-tech startup off to a fast start. That’s partly because Reprise isn’t exactly a startup. This summer, Eden Prairie-based Miromatrix Medical spun off the company, which is marketing two Miromatrix-developed products that have already earned FDA clearance. Called Miromesh and Miroderm, they’re designed to reinforce and repair damaged human tissue. In July, Reprise completed a $12.5 million private placement deal, which should boost sales far beyond the $1.75 million they netted last year. In Powers, a former SVP at Maple Grove-based Vascular Solutions (now part of Pennsylvania firm Teleflex), Reprise has an experienced med-tech marketer at the helm.
Joan T.A. Gabel
President, University of Minnesota
Inaugurated the 17th president of the University of Minnesota on July 1, Joan Gabel faces high expectations from constituencies that may have conflicting goals. Students and the Minnesota Legislature want Gabel to constrain tuition increases, while faculty members want financial resources to maintain and build nationally prominent rankings for their professional schools. Gabel is a lawyer with experience as a business dean and provost. The U of M’s 27,000 faculty and staff and 67,000 students will be watching how she interacts with constituencies and handles budgets. She’s spoken about emphasizing collaboration, innovation, and inclusiveness, and people will soon see how she translates those values into reality.
Since founding his fintech company ClickSWITCH in 2014, Cale Johnston has led the company to nearly 100 percent annual revenue growth. In 2018, he helped secure $3.5 million in Series A and $13 million in Series B financing; in 2019, the company hired 17 new employees (taking it to 50 total), moved to a new office in the North Loop, and rolled out its new application program interface, which allows financial institutions and consumers to design and build their own custom user interface. Johnston holds two registered patents for this technology and has another pending. He has managed to break into and become a key player in a notoriously difficult industry in just a matter of years.
CEO, Cirrus Aircraft
Named CEO in June, Nielsen was an intriguing choice to succeed co-founder Dale Klapmeier as the Duluth-based personal aircraft manufacturer’s top executive. (Klapmeier is staying on as a senior adviser.) Nielsen’s career includes a stint in leadership of sales and sales operations for California-based electric car maker Tesla, plus sales-executive roles at Bang & Olufsen and Ireland-based building materials company James Hardie Industries. In short, Nielsen doesn’t have an aviation background. But he is tech-savvy, which could mean new capabilities for Cirrus’ strong-selling piston-driven planes and small jets. Last year, Cirrus began offering virtual reality-based pilot training at its Tennessee facility.
President/CEO, Minnesota High Tech Association
Jeff Tollefson is always ready to switch gears and step up to a new challenge. In the 1990s, Tollefson co-founded Crescendo Ventures, an early-stage VC firm with a focus on tech. Under his watch, Crescendo grew into a $1.1 billion enterprise with offices in Minneapolis, London, and Palo Alto, California. Tollefson left Crescendo in 2007 to launch Genesys Works, a nonprofit social enterprise company aimed at helping high school students from low-income families develop job skills. He took the reins of the Minnesota High Tech Association in 2019. His aim? Developing a better tech workforce, especially among underrepresented populations.
President/CEO, St. Luke’s
Though not quite on the scale of Rochester’s Destination Medical Center project, Duluth’s two health providers are in the midst of major expansions. Essentia Health’s $800 million Vision Northland project, which will add 928,000 square feet of hospital space, will transform Duluth’s skyline. Though more modest, St. Luke’s $37.5 million project will allow the smaller of Duluth’s top health providers to stay competitive. Keeping up with Essentia is just one of the major challenges facing Kevin Nokels, who became St. Luke’s chief executive in August. The Minnesota native left the presidency of Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha to succeed John Strange, St. Luke’s president and CEO for nearly 23 years.
Partner, Twin Ignition
Opening an office in Northeast Minneapolis where founders could gather to work on their startups was crucial to Ben Rasmussen, co-founder of the new Twin Ignition incubator. “I’ve been blessed and fortunate,” says Rasmussen, also chairman of the corporate parent of Northeast Bank, purchased by his father in 1958. With partners Seth Peter, Mike Nathan, and Scott Aubitz, Twin Ignition has made its first two tech investments and plans on six more in the $25,000 to $60,000 range in 2020. Expect more from Rasmussen and partners in 2020—he’s particularly interested in startups related to health care and climate change.
Branch (formerly Branch Messenger) got its start in an incubator in Pasadena, California, but relocated to Minneapolis after participating in Target’s Techstars program. Its technology provides a platform for streamlining scheduling for hourly employees. Investors are bullish on Atif Siddiqi and his company, which has raised $10.4 million in financing so far. In partnership with Mastercard and Evolve Bank & Trust, Branch rolled out a debit card in October that allows hourly workers free, instant access to wages. It could be a game-changer. Siddiqi bills it as the first “early wage access technology” that can be used with no cost to employees.
First Precinct Inspector/Minneapolis Police Department
Bill Peterson, the cop newly responsible for overseeing downtown Minneapolis, has worked in what seems like every area of the department—patrol, SWAT, investigator. By reputation he’s a solutions-oriented problem solver. Hired at MPD in 1995, he’s expected to be willing to speak the truth to downtown’s varied and noisy constituencies. Unlike many cops, Peterson lives in the city and is more personally invested in its well-being. His challenge in 2020 will be balancing perceptions of menace with the threat of real crime downtown, drawing the line between policing capability and social service, balancing limited resources and staffing with demands for more, more, more, and dealing with the high number of guns on the streets.
President/CEO, C.H. Robinson
The Eden Prairie-based third-party logistics provider has thrived as supply chains have become more global, more tech-driven, and more complex. Last May, Bob Biesterfeld took the wheel from CEO John Wiehoff, who remains as board chair. During Wiehoff’s 17-year tenure, revenue increased more than 500 percent, to $16.6 billion. Meanwhile, C.H. Robinson has climbed steadily up the Fortune 500, ranking 185 in 2019. Biesterfeld has been with Robinson for two decades, so he’ll keep the big rig rolling. He’s leading more than $1 billion in new technology investments, though it remains to be seen whether global trade turmoil will slow C.H. Robinson down.
Mark Platt took the helm of gene-editing company Recombinetics in February, on the heels of a $34 million Series A fundraising round. Platt quickly got to work, rounding out the company’s leadership and gearing up for growth. He named a new chief scientific officer, head of research and development, and leader for its lab operations. Platt also helped secure better facilities to help advance Recombinetics’ mission to improve human and animal health through gene editing. And he has big ambitions for Acceligen, the company’s ag-focused subsidiary; to prep for fundraising, he appointed Acceligen’s first CEO, commercialization director, and board of directors.
CEO, Clinician Nexus
Katrina Anderson has never been through medical school, but she’s seen firsthand how grueling the process can be, especially when it comes to clinical rotations. Before she launched Clinician Nexus in 2016, she worked in HealthPartners’ central education department. The experience inspired her to partner with two developers to launch the platform, which is aimed at streamlining the process of scheduling rotations for students and hospitals; it’s now used in 100+ hospitals around the U.S. Her goal: reduce burnout and improve the education experience for all involved. Last summer, the company participated in a three-month accelerator program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Founder, Funky Grits
Jared Brewington ditched finance to invest in his old neighborhood when he opened Funky Grits at 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis in 2018. By this year he was already debuting his shrimp ’n’ grits fritters at a coveted stall in the Food Building at the State Fair. Funky Grits will move a few blocks away and evolve late this year, but Brewington is a tireless and passionate innovator and is working on more projects. He’ll launch a chicken concept called Thigh Times Birdhouse at the Galley, the North Loop’s incubator food hall, in December. Once that gets its footing, don’t be surprised to see one on a corner near you.
Founder/CEO, Matriarch Digital Media
After three years as a producer and weekend talk show host on Hubbard Broadcasting’s myTalk107.1, Twila Dang decided to create her own media platform. “I was frustrated by the idea that there wasn’t anything out there in the media landscape talking directly to me.” Based in St. Paul, Matriarch Digital Media produces podcasts with a mission to “respect, understand, and uplift women.” Seven Matriarch-produced podcasts, covering health and wellness, parenting, business, and self-help, are currently available, and more are coming in 2020. Dang is also adding media consulting and content services for clients. “We want to provide content that helps them live more actionable lives and, in the process, create a bigger footprint for women to work in the industry.”
Minnesota’s once favorite son, having laid low for the better part of two years, is reemerging as public political advocate. Now, after his resignation from the Senate following a #metoo controversy that remains divisive among Democrats locally and nationally, he’s producing a weekly SiriusXM radio show, a podcast, and making public appearances. He has said contrite things about the recent controversies, noting he has become more “mindful in my interactions with everybody,” but remains mum about a potential return to electoral politics. It’s hard not to believe Franken is angling for a more influential role again, and the results of the 2020 election may dictate what that is.
Minnesota Market Manager, J.P. Morgan Private Bank
Pilar Oppedisano does not have a traditional finance background. Prior to assuming her current job in July, she was a senior brand manager at General Mills. Because of her experience working with executives there, JPM wanted her expertise from both the financial and operational sides; she now oversees a team of investors, bankers, and advisors who manage foundations, endowments, and high-net-worth individuals. Oppedisano is aiming to double assets under the management of her division in the next three to five years, as well as to increase its involvement in the community.