STEP-UP program changes lives

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2011 - 9:59 PM
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Minneapolis Public Schools students Phillip Countryman, Tremayne Talbot, Laura Early, Marian Ahmed and Xee Vang were STEP-UP interns this summer at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

Matthew Vue, Kong Xiong and Hashim Yonis were telling some business folks the other day about how their summer internships had been huge steps up for them in connecting the world of education to the world of work.

"STEP-UP changed my life," said Yonis, who graduated from Edison High School in 2006, then from St. Olaf College. "I was born in Somalia and lived in the slums of Kenya and Ethiopia before coming to Minnesota.

"The skills and tools I use today as a professional administrator, I first learned in my STEP-UP internships at Faegre & Benson law firm and the Minneapolis Public Works Department. STEP-UP also opened doors for me ... to college."

The Minneapolis Step-Up program, championed by the likes of U.S. Bancorp, Allianz Life, YWCA of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Thrivent Financial and more than 200 small and large employers, this summer employed nearly 2,000 city kids. Most of them hail from low-income, minority families and many of them will be the first in family to attend college, post-high school technical schools or training.

Mayor R.T. Rybak and U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis, the godfathers of the operation, note that dozens of former Step-Up interns have completed college or technical school and return to careers at the companies where they interned -- the virtuous circle.

INSCAPE GOING GLOBAL

Inscape Publishing produces the popular DiSC program, one of the most widely used approaches to assessing personality and improving interpersonal skills.

As Inscape nears its 10th year as an independent company providing the training materials to business clients, CEO Jeff Sugerman says growth increasingly is coming from international sales through its distribution network of hundreds of leadership, training and consulting firms.

The DiSC program, now produced from Minneapolis in 28 languages, is the company's fastest-growing business. Sugerman estimates that a third of sales will be outside the United States this year.

"This is the realization of a (several-year) strategy that took us time to implement and perfect," Sugerman said last week. " We are the R&D and the education management team for those resellers, who are the distributors ... consulting firms, trainers, coaches, one- to 10-person firms ... who have strong relationships with their clients.''

When he joined the company, the challenge was to "reimagine our product to meet the growing demands of the digital world yet still support extremely important relationships with our distributors. Over the last few years, we've released our third-generation digital product line. The next two years will be [spent] internationalizing our product for partners outside the U.S."

This is also Inscape's fifth year of ownership under Sentinel Capital Partners, a New York-based private equity shop, and the 10th year since being spun out of the old Carlson Cos. The owners likely may look at harvesting a return from their investment.

"An IPO is not on the horizon, but I think there's a high probability that a strategic buyer would be interested in us," Sugerman said. "Perhaps a large multinational publishing company or information services firm."

Revenue is expected to grow 10 percent this year to $50 million at the 52-employee company.

Inscape claims more than a million people worldwide every year learn how to work more effectively with others by using its products, now sold in 70 countries.

SHORT TAKES

•Jon Campbell, executive vice president of Wells Fargo Bank and director of its national Social Responsibility Group, has been elected chair of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce board of directors, the state's largest business lobby. The chamber's top legislative priority remains a leaner state government. It represents 2,300 businesses, 40 percent of them outside the Twin Cities.

•Kathleen Ritter, a senior accounting major at Minnesota State University, Mankato, is one of only 12 students worldwide to win Zonta International's Jane M. Klausman Business Scholarship Award. The $5,000 scholarship is awarded annually to women pursuing degrees who demonstrate outstanding business management potential. Ritter was one of 30 finalists from 15 countries, including Canada, New Zealand, the Philippines, Germany and the United States. Ritter, from Red Wing, maintains a 3.98 cumulative grade-point average and is a former captain of her school's women's golf team.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • nstanthony@startribune.com

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