Lili Hall, who just happened to name her Minneapolis creative agency Knock Inc., can’t help but answer when the right opportunity knocks.

That business-ready mind-set has led Hall to take a financial stake in a pair of fledgling ventures in recent months while continuing to scout for other possible partners.

The partnerships bring new, continuing business to agency work that typically is project-based and transactional, said Hall, Knock’s president and CEO. They also help steep the growing agency’s newer staffers in the entrepreneurial spirit that prevailed when Hall founded Knock in 2001.

“It brings us back to our roots, now that we’re a little more established,” Hall said. “You’re talking to the person who, this is their idea and this is how they’re going to make their living. We get super jazzed about the guy or gal in the garage.”

The first partnership Hall struck saw her product design firm Treat and Company team with Michelle Tunno Buelow, a North Carolina-based business owner who co-authored “Bully in a Box,” a book series aimed at helping children ages 6 to 9 discuss bullying with parents and educators. Treat and Company developed the brand and characters for “Bully in a Box,” which debuted as an iBook series earlier this year.

“Knock brought the Bully in a Box characters to life in a relevant and approachable way,” Buelow said. “They have guided the creative process with the perfect balance of business professionalism paired with both imaginative and innovative direction.”

Buelow recommends Hall and her team for any creative project. “[They’re] bursting with talent, easy to work with, full of ideas, very interactive and they truly become an extension of your company,” Buelow said.

Knock’s other partnership evolved from what began as discussions about a retail location with Handsome Cycle Co., a bicycle maker that opened its shop in Minneapolis Warehouse District eight weeks ago after several years in business.

“They helped us work through the entire design process for the space, assisted with the build-out and really acted as the shepherd for the process of how we wanted the customer experience to work,” Handsome Cycle co-owner Mike Wietecki said. “Without Knock we certainly wouldn’t have done it on the scale we did with the build-out we did, where you say this is much more of a high-end retailer.”

Knock offers branding, design and advertising services, specializing in retail and consumer goods. The agency works with Fortune 500 companies as well as start-ups. Longtime clients include Target Corp., for which Knock has developed packaging, promotions and in-store experiences.

Hall also launched 3-D animation and creative content developer Neighbor, which she started with a partner. Knock is headquartered in a 10,000-square-foot building the company built three years ago on Glenwood Avenue N. in north Minneapolis. A new building she is planning nearby will serve as Knock’s new home, with Neighbor moving into the building that now houses Knock and Treat and Company.

Together, the three companies employ 75 people, including some working in New York and San Francisco. She founded Knock after 14 years of corporate and agency work primarily in the apparel industry.

Hall wants to expand Knock’s growing international business. She is finishing an international master’s of practicing management degree at Montreal’s McGill University, attending management programs and studying in half a dozen countries.

Hall and “Bully in a Box” author Buelow met through the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program, a national competition with continuing leadership, business development and networking opportunities to which both were selected in recent years.

“Lili and Michelle and remarkable businesspeople and this Bully in a Box initiative shows they’re downright great people,” said Kerrie MacPherson, a principal at Ernst & Young and the program’s executive sponsor.

The expert says: Mike Porter, director of the master of business communication program at the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, said the partnerships Hall is forging and her push to expand Knock’s business internationally show that she is not resting on her laurels.

“If you want to be successful in finding good partners, you have to go places where good partners might be,” Porter said, referring to Hall’s choice to apply for the Ernst & Young program that led to her work with “Bully in a Box.” “If she wants to be more international, she looks for an international master’s degree program that can take her there. She is taking the right steps.”

That approach can be the difference in between running a small agency and building something significant, Porter said.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is