Techie teens from Minneapolis-St. Paul head for Silicon Valley

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Teenagers from the Twin Cities visited Silicon Valley, courtesy of Google executives, one with Minnesota roots.

Photo: Photo provided by Steve Grove,

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Jenna Vang of north Minneapolis is hooked on Silicon Valley. Or at least a career in technology after visiting the technology mecca.

“I had a fantastic time in California,” said Vang, 14, who just graduated from Olson Middle School and is headed to Patrick Henry High School.

“I am a good student. And I would like to go to college and study computer science. I like to focus on my work and getting things done. That takes you places in life.”

Vang is one of 16 Minneapolis-St. Paul ninth-graders, most of whom have science- or technology-related internships this summer, who visited Silicon Valley, courtesy of a Google executive with Minnesota roots who’s working with local partners. The 16 students, mostly low-income minority kids, took the weeklong Silicon Valley experience thanks to a new organization called Silicon North Stars, founded by Steve Grove, a Minnesota native, and his wife, Mary Grove. Both are Google executives.

“In the Twin Cities, there’s a big income gap between white kids and minority kids and … Mary and I put some personal funds into this and with our partners are starting to see it grow,” Steve Grove, 36, said last week. “The goal is to target some youth … who would otherwise not have this opportunity and expose them to technology careers at a critical age.’’

Grove added: “We need more diverse voices in technology. These students had a fun, action-packed week. Each was paired with a [Google] mentor or other technology profession from ‘the valley.’ They worked on goals for high school and beyond. And the mentors will stay in touch throughout the year.”

The interns visited Google, Facebook, Intuit, TaskRabbit, Indiegogo, Stanford University, Target’s Innovation Center and a series of start-up companies at an incubator in San Francisco. With lectures and a lot of interaction between youth and professionals there was still time for kickball and pizza.

Steve Grove, who grew up in Northfield, Minn., and Mary Grove are working with Minneapolis-based Generation Next and CEO Kyle Coolbroth of CoCo, the new-age, without-walls workplace for entrepreneurs on the former trading floor of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange.

Eight of the teens are Minneapolis public school Step-Up interns, a summer jobs program for more than 1,000 kids each summer that started during the administration of Mayor R.T. Rybak. The former mayor now heads Generation Next, a business-government coalition focused on closing the “achievement gap.” The other eight students are from Washington Technology Magnet School in St. Paul. This is the first in a series of programs that Silicon North Stars plan. More information: www.siliconnorthstars.org.

BIG STONE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT BOASTS SMALLER BUDGET

Otter Tail Power Co.’s ongoing upgrade to its coal-burning Big Stone power plant in South Dakota is way under budget.

The Fergus Falls, Minn.-based utility recently reported that it has reduced the pollution-control project’s cost estimate a second time — to $384 million, according to a regulatory filing. That’s 21 percent less than the original estimate of $489 million.

The plant, across the border from Ortonville, Minn., is getting modern smokestack controls to reduce emissions. The company attributed the cost savings to lower procurement and engineering costs, and the resulting need for a smaller contingency fund.

The project, one of the largest coal plant upgrades in the Midwest, is more than half completed and should be done in 2016. Otter Tail is the operator and part owner of the plant.

David Shaffer

Short Takes

• Finnegans, the innovative nonprofit beer company that donates profits to hunger causes, focuses its lean promotional budget on creative happenings to keep the name on tap. Here’s the latest: Finnegans, which is brewed under contract with Summit Brewing in St. Paul, is teaming with Summit’s Damian McConn to craft a limited-release stout inspired by the spirits of McConn’s Irish homeland. It will be called, what else, The Dead Irish Poet. Finnegans (www.finnegans.org) plans to launch a funny campaign to raise funds on Kickstarter.com through Sept. 8, complete with Irish literature and fashion themes.

• Twin Cities-based Aspire Beverage Co. says its “natural sports drinks” have hit the shelves of Target stores in Minnesota and Colorado, which may provide the platform for a national expansion. Aspire, which launched in 2012 and which is available at several Twin Cities grocery chains, has billed itself as a “healthy alternative” to leading national sports-drink brands Gatorade and Powerade. Aspire said its fruit drinks are loaded, not with sugar, artificial colors and preservatives, but with “beneficial electrolytes, vitamins and antioxidants.”

• Lindquist & Vennum, which is in merger talks with Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly, has been named one of the “50 Best Law Firms for Women” by Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers publications, based on “family-friendly policies” and “career development initiatives that are helping to retain women attorneys and advance them into the leadership pipeline.”

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  • Jenna Vang of north Minneapolis is hooked on Silicon Valley. Or at least a career in technology after visiting the technology mecca.“I had a fantastic time in California,” said Vang, 14, who just graduated from Olson Middle School and is headed to Patrick Henry High School.“I am a good student. And I would like to go to college and study computer science. I like to focus on my work and getting things done. That takes you places in life.”Vang is one of 16 Minneapolis-St. Paul ninth-graders, most of whom have science- or technology-related internships this summer, who visited Silicon Valley,...

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