Cool idea contest to help others grow

Proto Labs, one of Minnesota's fastest-growing small manufacturers, has decided that it wants to inspire others to grow.

The Maple Plain-maker of computer-machined and injection-molded parts will announce later this month the launch of its Cool Idea! award that's designed to give fledgling product designers a better chance to bring innovative products to life.

Proto Labs will provide $100,000 worth of prototyping and short-run production services to award recipients.

"The success of our company is due to a cool idea that made quick-turn injection molded prototypes a reality," said CEO Brad Cleveland. "We're eager to propel the cycle forward by supporting the next generation of innovators who may otherwise lack the resources to get their ideas to market."

Proto Labs said the competition, which it expects to offer annually, is different from other awards that recognize products or innovative design after the product already has been created. Larry Lukis, Proto Labs' chief technical officer, said the Cool Idea! program will help designers take their idea (or part) from a 3D CAD model to its first-run production stage using Proto Labs' proprietary Firstcut CNC machining and/or Protomold injection-molding services.

Cleveland said Proto Labs, which serves North America, Europe and Japan, has increased employment to 400 over the past year. The company expects revenue of about $100 million in 2011. That's up from $65 million last year.

More information for inventive minds:


The annual Minnesota Cup entrepreneurial competition, featuring a record $150,000 in prize money , is open for entries through May 20. Now in it's seventh year, sponsors say 5,000 entrants have participated since 2005.

The 2009 and 2010 winners went on to attract more than $30 million in funding, in addition to partners, patents and distribution agreements.

"The level of visibility locally and nationally helped us gain connections and credibility within the investment community," said Doug Ruth, CEO of 2010 Minnesota Cup winner EarthClean, maker of bio-based replacements for chemical fire retardants. "The mentors available throughout are highly experienced resources that can help prepare participants and position their plans for success."

In addition to more prize money, the new developments this year include e-commerce site builder Digital River as new lead sponsor in the high tech division; law firm Fredrikson & Byron as the new co-lead sponsor of the bioscience division, and a partnership with the Minnesota Angel Network and Project Skyway, including admission to a "boot camp" for start-up managers.

Carlson, the travel and hospitality business, has joined as a major sponsor with the University of Minnesota, Wells Fargo, the state of Minnesota and Arrowhead Growth Alliance. Retired community banker Dave Cleveland is a returning patron.

"The real advantage of the Minnesota Cup is the experience of the contest itself," said cofounder Scott Litman. "Ultimately, our goal is to help grow the vibrant business community in our state."

Minnesotans can submit business ideas online at


Duluth-based GeaCom took home a Gold award in the 2011 Edison Best New Product Awards Tuesday for their multilingual medical interpretation device, the Phrazer. The awards honor the memory of inventor Thomas Alva Edison and the program's sponsors include the Nielsen Co., Discovery Channel and Science Channel.

The Phrazer, a handheld device used in critical medical situations to communicate between patient and caregiver in the event of a language barrier, determines what language the patient speaks, and via touch-screen display, can collect medical data and communicate necessary information to the caregiver. The Phrazer won the gold medal in the "Handheld or Miniaturized Devices" division of the science and medical category.

The Edison Best New Product Awards honor excellence in the development and marketing of new products. Along with the Phrazer, major products such as the Apple iPad and the Chevrolet Volt were honored.

3M meanwhile, took home two Edison awards. A product designed to offer consumers an alternative to bottled water also won an Edison award in the best new products category. The Maplewood-based giant's Filtrete Water Station, which went on the market last summer, won a silver award in the consumer packaged goods -- household category. The device filters water directly from the tap into four 16.9-ounce reusable plastic bottles.

3M also shared a bronze award with Focus Diagnostics, the infectious-disease diagnostics business of Quest Diagnostics, in the science and medical-diagnostics aids category. 3M and Focus Diagnostics co-developed an alternative to rapid, but at times unreliable, tests for flu, including the H1N1 virus.


Compellent, the innovative data-storage company that was just bought by huge Dell, is staying with its growth plans. The Eden Prairie company, which employs more about 565 people globally, is looking to hire about 150 more. Compellent CEO Phil Soran, at the time of the February expansion, envisioned hiring up to 300 people to meet long-term expansion plans. Dell Compellent will interview for engineering, marketing, sales and other positions on April 15-16 at the Sofitel Minneapolis hotel in Bloomington. More information:


Bloomington United for Youth and Crossroads Adoption Services were among 18 nonprofits that got a half-million bucks worth of services during the annual 24-hour volunteer collaborative March 26-27 by Web-development geeks from The Nerdery and other Twin Cities tech professionals. They form competitive teams for the "Overnight Website Challenge." There are no losers. About $1.5 million of free work has been donated to 57 Minnesota nonprofits since 2007, not including hundreds of hours of ongoing technical support. More information at:

Susan Feyder and Megan Nicolai contributed to Inside Track.

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