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25 Companies to Watch

25 Companies to Watch

These Minnesota businesses are at key stages, including rapid growth, product launches, and new leadership.

Target

After a decade of struggle, Target Corp. has finally begun to find traction in its efforts to rejuvenate its in-store shopping experience, while engaging customers looking for a fundamentally digital buying experience. CEO Brian Cornell and his leadership team continue to refine a low-margin grocery business and inconsistent supply chain, and build out a digital shopping experience that leverages Target’s stores as distribution centers. Surging digital sales and stabilizing brick-and-mortar business indicate that after years of trial and error, the company may have settled on the right mix of trend and technology to secure its future.


Calyxt

New Brighton-based Calyxt Inc. has a company name that no one can pronounce, and it lost $26 million on revenue of only $508,000 in 2017 (yes, you read that right). But it’s still a Minnesota company worth watching closely. Its vision—and potential market—is big. CEO Federico Tripodi is a veteran of ag-industry giant Monsanto. The company’s gene-editing technology is designed to create healthier foods such as high-oleic soybean oil, high-fiber wheat, and canola oil with lower saturated fat. Market response has already been strong. Calyxt raised $64.4 million in its 2017 IPO and brought in an additional $60.9 million in a follow-on offering in May. Calyxt could be a key player in the push for healthier foods.


General Mills

Jeff Harmening succeeded Ken Powell as CEO in June 2017, and he is aiming to grow revenue following a restructuring and several years of uninspiring business trends. Long known for its packaged convenience fare and sweetened yogurt, GM has expanded its product line to meet the millennial demand for healthier foods with fewer additives. Its “portfolio reshaping” strategy has been built on acquisitions, such as natural packaged food maker Annie’s, artisanal meat purveyor EPIC, and even natural pet food maker Blue Buffalo, its most recent addition.

 

American Public Media Group/Minnesota

Traditional public radio listeners are a graying population. To find its next generation of listeners, St. Paul-based American Public Media Group, parent of Minnesota Public Radio, is taking steps that don’t follow the standard playbook. Take podcasts, for example. (Sure, that’s an easy one.) But APM has also launched the Glen Nelson Center to invest in new media-connected companies. Its Lunar Startups space is meant to be an incubator for emerging businesses. They are also launching five-year content “initiatives,” including expanded reporting and events on public policy topics such as water supply and mental health. The future is uncertain, but it’s tough to bet against MPR, which has built itself into the nation’s second-largest public radio network.


Cardiovascular Systems Inc.

When patients’ arteries are clogged with calcium buildup, surgeons are commonly turning to the devices made by Cardiovascular Systems Inc. After 28 years in the red, the New Brighton-based company turned its first quarterly profit in early 2017, and sales have continued to rise. Over 300,000 patients at more than 2,000 health care facilities have used its flagship catheter-based products to shave down calcified plaque, not only in the heart, but also in arteries in the leg, ankle, foot, wrist, and groin. Recent success has justified an expansion to Japan, and the company says it is currently evaluating options for additional international markets.


Best Buy

Keep your enemies close. When Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced a partnership in April, it sent a strong—albeit surprising—message that the Richfield-based electronics retailer is not about to become the next Whole Foods. Instead of getting gobbled up by the online behemoth, Best Buy became Amazon’s exclusive brick-and-mortar partner for a line of TVs equipped with Amazon’s Fire TV streaming video capabilities and Alexa voice-assistant technology. At a time when Best Buy is beating performance expectations and hooking customers by offering the human tech service Amazon can’t (yet) provide, it’s a strong sign that the hometown retailer intends to continue proving its relevance.


Star Tribune

Over the last decade, the Star Tribune exited bankruptcy and found a savvy publisher in Mike Klingensmith and a committed owner (Glen Taylor) with modest expectations. It’s the right recipe for a primarily print media company in this day and age, and the paper has responded, if not with dramatic growth, then without substantial atrophy. The challenge for the coming years is to find substantial digital advertising revenue to replace falling print subscriptions and advertising. If there is a regional American newspaper/media company positioned for this kind of innovation, it is as likely to be the Strib as any paper.


 

Cargill

Cargill is massive, with employees in 70 countries and $110 billion in revenue in 2017. Yet it needs to be agile as it operates its four lines of business—food, agriculture, financial, and industrial products. In recent years, Cargill simplified its leadership structure to increase accountability and pace of decision-making so it can enter and exit businesses rapidly. It’s adapting to new consumer trends, including sustainable and ethical food production. Government policy changes could have a big effect on Cargill’s future, so CEO Dave MacLennan is speaking out on proposals affecting free trade and immigration.


Anytime Fitness

Anytime Fitness CEO Chuck Runyon and president/cofounder Dave Mortensen rang in the opening of their 4,000th gym in March and already have their 5,000th mapped out two years from now. At a pace of nearly two gyms launched each day, all of which operate 24/7 with limited human supervision, the Woodbury-based company has become not only the fastest-growing fitness franchiser on Earth, but the second-fastest-growing franchise company after Subway. Next up, Runyon wants to go where no other business has gone before: all seven continents. Among the reasons, he says, “Our franchisees get excited when we do epic things.”


Cirrus Aircraft

In 2018—Cirrus Aircraft's 16th year of business—the world’s top seller of general aviation piston aircrafts landed the 7,000th delivery of one of its SR series planes—by far its most popular aircraft, which counts former Walmart CEO William Simon and actress Angelina Jolie among its owners. Soaring sky-high with strong demand, the company recently expanded its hometown operations in Duluth and launched a new training center in Knoxville, Tenn., to fuel its growth. But what may arguably drive more deep-pocketed pilots to Cirrus is something it has exclusively: the one and only FAA-certified single-engine personal jet.


Bind

Following the on-demand services trend, serial entrepreneur Tony Miller founded Minneapolis-based Bind in 2016. Labeling it on-demand, employer-sponsored health insurance, Bind allows members to pay for what they need when they need it, resulting in lower premiums. Subscribers pay for a core health plan, which covers basic services such as preventative and primary care, urgent and emergency care, and pharmacy needs. There are no deductibles, and when specific procedures arise, members can add coverage as they need it. In February, Bind raised $70 million in a round of funding to expand outside the Minnesota and Wisconsin markets. (Miller’s previous venture, Definity Health, was acquired by UnitedHealth Group in 2004 for $300 million and UHG has partnered with Bind to facilitate its expansion.)


Tru Shrimp

The average American eats around 4 pounds of shrimp in a given year. With over 80 percent of that shrimp imported, largely from Asia, a business based in Marshall believes there’s an opportunity to reduce that margin. Backed by door-to-door food deliverer Schwan’s, also in Marshall, Tru has constructed a unique aquaculture system of stacked tanks, which it calls “tidal basins,” dozens of feet in length. In a year’s time, the company expects to produce more than 8 million pounds of shrimp, which it claims will be more environmentally responsible than Asian shrimp, and antibiotic-free.


 

MartinPatrick 3

While still enjoying the waves of tourist traffic due to recent accolades in national publications, MartinPatrick 3—the high-end menswear and home furnishings retailer that largely inspired the North Loop shopping district—continues to prove itself the antidote to Amazon. An expansion, scheduled for completion this summer, brings the boutique department store to 20,000 square feet—the entire first floor of the historic Colonial Warehouse. The latest additions include event space, a second lounge, expanded barber shop, and a shop-within-a-shop for 133-year-old Nicollet Mall jeweler JB Hudson, punctuating the shifting epicenter of downtown retail.


Minnesota United FC

When Major League Soccer extended an offer to Minnesota in 2015 to lift its minor league team to the pro circuit, team owner Bill McGuire, former CEO of UnitedHealth Group, jumped on the invitation without a finalized stadium plan. After Minneapolis turned down the opportunity, McGuire and partners Glen Taylor, Wendy Nelson, and Bob and Jim Pohlad turned to St. Paul. Come 2019, the Loons will move out of their temporary home at TCF Bank Stadium (where they sold out the 2017 season) and into the natural grass, open-roof Allianz Field, where the team will gain control of its ancillary revenue. What remains to be seen is whether the new stadium will spur creation of a “modern live-work-play destination” in the surrounding Midway neighborhood, as promised by McGuire.


Land O’Lakes

The food and agribusiness cooperative entered a new era when Beth Ford was named CEO in July. She is the first woman to hold the job, succeeding Chris Policinski, who doubled the size of the company since 2005. Recently, Land O’Lakes has combined its seed and crop-protection businesses with those of Iowa-based United Suppliers, making it the largest merger in the company’s history. It continues to pursue an expansion strategy through acquisitions, which has included buying Vermont Creamery in 2017 and turning it into a subsidiary that makes goat cheeses and cultured butter. Beyond domestic deals, look to Land O’Lakes to become an even bigger global player, evident in its joint ventures in South Africa and Kenya.


Mall of America

It’s taken the Ghermezian family, who owns Mall of America, years to come to terms with what locals have long lamented: Luxury retail doesn’t play in Minnesota. And so, three years after completing a $325 million, JW Marriott-anchored upmarket addition, the family is morphing the space into a fast-fashion wing with a 40,000-square-foot H&M opening this fall across from rival affordable-trend retailer Zara. But the mall would rather focus on its latest first-to-market attractions like Matrix Technology, a 5D virtual reality experience, and CMX Cinemas, the new movie theater featuring a food hall that serves burgers, shakes, and made-from-scratch pizzas. CEO Don Ghermezian believes people will continue to get off the couch for engaging shopping experiences, but future relevance hinges on evolving MOA’s market image into that of an entertainment destination.


Digi-Key Electronics

In 2017, its 45th year of business, online electronics retailer Digi-Key Electronics hit a milestone that few companies ever reach: $2 billion in annual sales. President Dave Doherty celebrated the occasion, saying, “It took us 38 years to reach $1 billion in annual sales and only seven short years to reach the second billion.” The Thief River Falls-based company’s growth has been colossal, to say the least, but its home region is struggling to keep pace. A lack of housing and available workers has stunted Digi-Key’s expansion capabilities, leading local officials to work overtime in 2017 to persuade the company to keep its planned $200 million, 1,000-worker expansion in the area.


UnitedHealth Group

UHG broke through the $200 billion revenue milestone in 2017, when revenue grew 9 percent to hit $201 billion. Based on its size, United is a big player whenever health policy reform is debated. Beyond being a major health insurer, UHG provides health data and technology services to employers, health providers, and other companies through its Optum business. It employs about 285,000 people companywide. Now No. 5 on the Fortune 500, UHG is growing its existing businesses, expanding through acquisitions such as urgent care provider MedExpress, and building a customer base internationally, including in South America. Locally, its presence is increasing: It will begin selling employer-sponsored health insurance in the state in late 2018.


 

MicroOptx

Named the 2017 MN Cup grand prize winner, Maple Grove-based MicroOptx makes an optical implant designed to halt the progression of glaucoma, an eye condition that causes blindness and affects more than 70 million people globally. Founded in 2014, the start-up’s Brown Glaucoma Implant reduces pressure on the optic nerve to prevent vision loss. About the thickness of a human hair, the implant is inserted in the eye using a minimally invasive procedure that can be completed in less than a minute. The device is undergoing clinical trials; CEO Chris Pulling expects the implant to be market-ready by early 2021.


Inspire Medical Systems

The Medtronic spin-off, which for two years ranked as Minnesota’s fastest-growing private company by revenue, has already seen its sales nearly double in its last three quarters ending March 31. And growth isn’t expected to slow, as it continues to capitalize on its position as the only company with an FDA-approved neurostimulation device to treat moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea. Much of the $112 million that the company raised during its IPO at the start of May will go to developing its next generation of implantable sleep apnea devices, as well as push its expansion into new markets such as Japan and Europe.


3M

Inge Thulin passed the CEO baton to Mike Roman, a 30-year 3M veteran, on July 1. He now leads a global company with 91,000 employees that increased sales in 2017 by 5.1 percent, to $31.7 billion. This year also was pivotal for marking the end of 3M’s longstanding litigation over groundwater contamination in the east metro. (It settled with the state of Minnesota for $850 million.) Priority growth areas include advanced wound care, air quality, electric car development, and personal wellness. While U.S. trade and tariff policies are a global concern, 3M has a huge advantage in the big China market, since it operates a wholly owned business there.


Patterson Cos.

Founded in 1878, Mendota Heights-based Patterson Cos. Inc. has long been one of the country’s biggest suppliers of dental equipment. At the turn of this century, it branched out into the veterinary market, as well as rehabilitation products for people, such as wheelchairs and braces. During the Great Recession, Patterson made dozens of acquisitions in the U.S. and overseas. It’s been a quietly prosperous business—until recently; Amazon, that great disrupter, wants to take a bite out of the dental supply market. Meanwhile, Patterson and other suppliers are facing federal action over alleged price collusion. A company that has kept its mouth shut suddenly has earned unwanted attention that has clouded its future.


Apogee Enterprises

The company started with a single auto glass shop, Harmon Glass, in downtown Minneapolis in 1949. It’s a little bigger today. Bloomington-based Apogee Enterprises reported record revenue of $1.3 billion for fiscal 2018, up 19 percent from the previous year and up 72 percent since 2014. More than 90 percent of its revenue is drawn from its architectural glass, metal, and installation businesses. (It exited auto glass in 2004.) While no one was paying much attention, Apogee has quietly become a major force in its industry and Minnesota business. It has been growing internationally through acquisitions of glass companies in Canada and Brazil, and plans to continue expanding to new markets.


MN Home Outlet

After his company outgrew its 1,600 square-foot Burnsville home improvement store within seven months of opening, founder Jimmy Vosika knew he was on to something. Founded in 2014, MN Home Outlet partners with big-box and online retailers including Home Depot and Amazon to acquire their overstock and returned inventory, then resells the items at discounted prices. The outlet sells everything from appliances and furniture to kitchenware and home décor. Its original Burnsville store is now more than 57,000 square feet. Vosika’s next openings were in Woodbury and Coon Rapids. Revenue for 2017 was about $11 million.


 

Bright Health

The idea sounds crazy—create a brand-new health insurance plan with the goal of building a national company. But that’s exactly what the founders of Minneapolis-based Bright Health are doing. Investors are bullish: The company raised a head-spinning $240 million in its first two rounds of financing. The company’s three founders bring deep industry experience to the table. Bright Health partners with a single provider group in each market; it started in Colorado last year and is adding other states. Bright is off to a solid start, with $45 million in revenue in 2017, its first year of operations. Company leaders see a wide opening in a business where customers and providers alike crave new options.


 

3 FOR THE ROAD

Three Minnesota companies to watch whose ownership or headquarters status is in transition or no longer based in Minnesota.


Medtronic

Medtronic has a long history here, but its headquarters technically moved to Ireland after its $50 billion Covidien acquisition in 2015. However, Minnesota remains the operational base for the world’s largest medical device company. Medtronic reported revenue of $30 billion and a net profit of $3.1 billion in fiscal 2018. Despite its size, Medtronic is not standing still, driving growth through therapy innovations and strategic acquisitions of companies with new technologies. While cardiovascular products remain its biggest line, its financials point to areas of future growth: For 2018, Q4 revenue in its diabetes group was up 26 percent, brain therapies were up 14.9 percent, and pain therapies were up 12.9 percent.


Sun Country Airlines

With new owners (Apollo Global Management) and management (CEO Jude Bricker) and a new business model, the coming years will tell Sun Country’s future. Though the previous Davis family ownership stabilized and even brought modest profitability, Sun Country struggled to generate sufficient profits and was squeezed by full-service network carriers like Delta Air Lines and deep discounters like Spirit and Frontier Air. Sun Country’s evolution from a carrier more like Delta to one more like Spirit is rooted in a conviction that its customers have made it clear that price is the decisive factor in buying an airline ticket. Sun Country must grow if its venture fund owners are to find an exit strategy. Whether it can find that growth in MSP is one of many questions facing the airline.


Buffalo Wild Wings

Golden Valley-based Buffalo Wild Wings has been through the wringer of late. After activist investor Mick McGuire attempted to remake the company’s business model in 2016, the company rolled out a quick-serve offshoot, and CEO Sally Smith announced retirement. Just when it looked like McGuire had prevailed, Smith engineered the company’s sale to Arby’s owner Inspire Brands, which acquired BWW in a $2.9 billion deal with more of a stay-the-course agenda. This March, 132 employees at BWW’s headquarters were let go as part of the Inspire consolidation. For now, the headquarters appears secure, but change is the watchword going forward for the leading hospitality concept to emerge in TCB’s first quarter-century.