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ConnectUP! MN conference connects diverse entrepreneurs and investors

Connie Evans, of Association for Enterprise Opportunity, (left) and Y. Elaine Rasmussen, Social Impact Strategies Group (right) at ConnectUP!; Photo by Anna Min

A diverse group of 130 entrepreneurs, investors and others in the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” set out to try to “fix capitalism” this week as part of the first ConnectUP! MN summit in Minneapolis.

“This is about making connections. … This is about the people who are overlooked,” said Y. Elaine Rasmussen, chief executive of Social Impact Strategies Group and the main producer of ConnectUP!, during her opening remarks this past Wednesday.

The day-and-a-half conference at the Radisson Blu in downtown was dedicated to connecting small business owners, investors, city leaders and non-profit representatives with each other.

What made the summit standout from other typical networking and investment events was that it focused on micro-businesses led by women, people of color, LGBTQ, or others from a “marginalized community.” Investors were looking for investment opportunities under $100,000.

“We are here today to fix capitalism. … It is working really well for a few people at the tippy top,” said Susan Hammel of Cogent Consulting, who also helped to produce the conference.

Entrepreneurs could engage in one-on-one counseling sessions with legal and financial experts. Many of the sessions centered around securing capital such as “securing the bag: investor landscape and capital options” and “know your numbers: financials for side-hustles.”

“This is unique in a sense that it is putting me in direct connection to people with access to funds,” said Tiffany Dykes, a grant writing and fundraising consultant and conference attendee.

The summit preluded the Minnesota Council of Foundation Conference. ConnectUP! was sponsored by a range of partners including the Bush Foundation, the Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota, Nexus Community Partners and others.

DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy (right) and Adair Mosley, president and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities, paneled a discussion at the summit; Photo by Anna Min

Smiley will franchise Crisp & Green shops

Steele Smiley plans to sell franchises in his Crisp & Green, a year after opening the “highly successful” salad shops in Wayzata and the North Loop.
“Crisp & Green will be the right franchise opportunity at the right time,” Smiley said in a prepared statement. “Our wide variety of chef-driven, scratch-made recipes using only fresh, whole ingredients are exactly what [consumers] are looking for.”
Smiley, the former owner of Steele Fitness, was the creator of the fresh-food concept and took over as majority owner and operator in the summer of 2017. Restaurateur Ryan Burnet remains a partner in the concept. The company declined to quantify its investment or whether it has positive cash flow.
Smiley, 39, a former Wall Street investment banker and swimmer at the University of Virginia, started Steele Fitness 12 years ago. It was acquired in 2013 by the larger Snap Fitness of Chanhassen for an undisclosed amount.
The salad craze has become something of a science in the battle for high-end healthy eaters.

Crisp & Green, for example, sampled eight versions of ‘herbed falafel’ to settle on the “perfect one … not only flavorful and nutritious, but unlike most falafel, it is baked rather than fried.”
Last summer, Crisp launched a “dock delivery” service for those busy boaters on Lake Minnetonka.