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TC Startup Week(end): Blogging, CRMs, Smart Cities, and More

A recap of Friday’s events, with a look toward more weekend happenings.

TC Startup Week(end): Blogging, CRMs, Smart Cities, and More
The Metropolitan Economic Development Association held its second annual Million Dollar Pitch competition for minority entrepreneurs on Friday. Twin Cities Public Television hosted the event.

Startup week chugs along, even as the Twin Cities region experienced its first snowfall of the season. Below, we share some highlights from Friday's discussions and look ahead to this weekend's happenings.

The business of blogging: Are blogs still monetizable these days? And could a blog help grow your business? Three Twin Cities-area blogging pros weighed in at a Friday morning panel: Bruno Bornsztein of Curbly, Lee Funke of Fit Foodie Finds, and Bjork Ostrom of Pinch of Yum. The upshot: The content must come first. Monetization comes second. “If you put the business in front of the content, it’ll probably fall apart. The blogging piece has to come first,” Ostrom said. Panelists suggested focusing content on a specific niche to build community and engagement. The event was held at Twin Cities Startup Week’s hub in the IDS Center. This year, organizers are testing out two physical hubs for the week, one in downtown Minneapolis and the other in St. Paul.

Working smarter, not harder: Customer relationship management (CRM) tools may be a smart way to lighten your workload. That was one of the takeaways from a Friday afternoon session hosted by Minneapolis marketing agency Denamico. “Make sure [your CRM has] the tools and functionality and capabilities to help you achieve the goals that you have set out,” said Emily Hulstein, senior strategist with Denamico. And in an age of disruption for many industries, it’s better to get ahead of the digital game than to play catch-up. Startups often find their niche by disrupting the status quo, but they have only a limited number of resources to achieve that, so it’s important for them to maximize their brand recognition, Hulstein said.

Entrepreneurs save the day? There’s plenty of room for innovation in urban planning, though it’s typically not front-and-center in the startup scene. (Stormwater drainage is never quite as sexy as, say, developing a new app.) On Friday, a group of entrepreneurs met at University Enterprise Labs (UEL) in St. Paul for a day of discussions on “smart cities.” Conversations centered on using technology to make cities more efficient and less wasteful. UEL executive director Diane Rucker said there’s been “tons of interest” in the smart cities track. “It’s standing room only,” she said.

The next million-dollar idea: The Metropolitan Economic Development Association named the winners of its Million Dollar Challenge, a “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition for entrepreneurs of color. Biomed startup Phenomix Sciences and New York City-based medical wear company Care + Wear each took home a prize of $500,000, while Civic Eagle won $200,000. Organizers say the number of applicants in this year’s Million Dollar Challenge has more than doubled from last year. And this is only the second iteration of the challenge. “Each one of the entrepreneurs that we heard from is worthy of an investment,” said Barbara Butts Williams, MEDA’s board chair. David Rudolph, region manager for Chase Bank in Minnesota and the Dakotas, said all the presentations he heard on Friday were “extremely strong.”

“There needs to be more opportunities like this,” he added.

What we’re watching this weekend: CanCan Wonderland is hosting a VIP mini-golf session until 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. There’s a $2 fee to play, and you can reserve up to four tickets. Also: There’s a discussion on social media and mental health at Brick x Mortar at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. More info on that event here. Finally, on Sunday, Twin Cities Public Television is airing a documentary on Minnesota’s high-tech history. (The film will be shown at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday.)

Quote of the day: “If you’re thinking about starting a business, success and failure look pretty much the same at the beginning.” (Bruno Bornsztein, Curbly)

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