Ernest Grumbles III

Ernest Grumbles III is an IP (intellectual property) and business development attorney at the Minneapolis firm Adams Monahan, where he works with entrepreneurs and early stage, tech-oriented enterprise. He is also Co-Founder of MOJO Minnesota, a collective supporting entrepreneurs and promoting innovation policy and community in Minnesota. He enjoys fresh air and lots of caffeine and is constantly trying new things (instead of sleeping). He may be reached at:

Posts about Society

MN Innovation Update - fall 2012

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: September 28, 2012 - 4:45 PM

Minnesota is an innovation-driven state.  We enjoy our current quality of life because of the past and ongoing efforts of our fellow citizens to harness creativity, work hard and build things that make a lasting difference - food tech, life science, information tech, clean/green tech, education tech and the list goes on.  Here a few recent and upcoming MN innovation highlights that are a reminder of our robust technology and entrepreneurship scene.

Minnesota Cup Awards - September 6

The Minnesota Cup is our state's biggest business plan competition, with over 1,000 entrants and six divisions.   The year-long process, sponsored by the University of Minnesota and the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, ends with an awards presentation at the McNamara Center.  This year's award ceremony, held just a few weeks ago, brought to the fore six great new companies innovating in completely different spaces.

The top prize went to PreciousStatus (also High Tech division winner), which has built a system to let medical caregivers provide families with short, real-time health updates on loved ones.  The Division winners show the diversity of our economy: Envirolastech (Cleantech; thermoelastic wood replacement); Orthocor (Bioscience; electromagnetic knee pain relief); LifeFloor (General; slip-resistant flooring); Cognific (Student; web-based mental health engagement tools and therapies); Tuloko (Social Entrepreneur; social network/business directory focused on black-owned businesses).

Univ. of Minnesota Venture Center - 12 new startups in FY 2012

The U's Office of Technology Commercialization and Venture Center work to locate, license and commercialize U-based technologies.  The Venture Center focuses on developing and spinning out startups into the local economy.  In FY12, the Venture Center hit an all-time high 12 startup spinouts.  12 in 12 is a great accomplishment.  Keep your eyes open for this U tech in the local economy, creating high-quality jobs and enriching our innovation ecosystem.

EduTech Conference (TiE Minnesota) - October 8

This is the second year of the annual education technology conference hosted by TiE Minnesota.  Education technology has been important part of the IT economy here in Minnesota for the past three decades and is a high-profile growth area nationally.  Among the local successes was the original Oregon Trail software. There are many new education tech startups coming into the local market, which creates great possibilities to align tech innovation, job growth and the manifold challenges of modern education.

MN Venture Conference - October 13

Led by The Collaborative and the MN Venture Capital Assn, the Venture Conference provides 2 days of capital- and startup- focused networking, education and business pitches.  Direct startup investments come out of this conference, which has been happening yearly since 1987.  Thanks to Dan Carr and team for helping to maintain startup investment fervor.

Cleantech Open - N. Central Region Innovation Expo and Awards - October 18

The Cleantech Open is a national accelerator and competition that identifies and supports great new clean and green technology companies.  The Twin Cities is the site of the North Central Region's Innovation Expo and Awards. Winners get to move on to the national competition, with support resources and a chance at a $250,000 grand prize.

U. of St. Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship - Fowler Business Concept Challenge Awards - October 19

This business plan competition hosted by the University of St. Thomas challenges undergrads and graduate students to "develop a business concept that has the potential to become a viable high-growth business."  The competition promotes entrepreneurship on campus and provides more than $35,000 in scholarships (including $10K each to the undergrad and grad division winners).  Alum and entrepeneur Ron Fowler ('66) endowed the Challenge, which generates high quality business concepts every year.

Upcoming later this year:

MHTA Tekne Awards - November 1 - honoring MN's technology and innovation leaders, large and small

Startup Weekend Twin Cites - November 2 - 48 hours to pick a technology, research, develop and present it - startup mayhem!

MOJO Startup School - November 13 - schooling policy leaders on the entrepreneurial pathway (details shortly)

For other startup events and news, check out MOJO Minnesota, an innovation co-op working to energize Minnesota's entrepreneurial ecosystem.


MN StartUpdate - Jan. 2012

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: January 19, 2012 - 9:49 PM

2012 is going to be an amazing year for Minnesota startups, both in idea generation and funding. Lots of industries are in disruption mode, and you can be part of the story.  

Here are a few entrepreneurial items to consider/ponder as the temperature outside drops to absolute zero:

MN Angel Tax Credit – Time to Renew: Another funding essential. If you’re a Minnesota startup looking to raise angel money, get certified so your investors can get their credit. If you were approved in 2011, you need to re-up. Here’s the link(now go fill out!).  Don’t forget – you need approval, your investor needs approval and your deal needs approval.

A New Angel Investor Group – Gopher Angels: We need more angel investors in MN, and Gopher Angels is looking to grow the pie.  Read a summary here and find Gopher Angels on GUST here. If you’re in startup fundraising mode, make sure you have a GUST profile and share with the Gopher Angels.  

SOPA/PIPA - Bad; not good. While I strongly support IP rights, these proposed laws go too far and would interfere with basic operation of websites and the internet. Over-correction to the max.   And this will impact negatively on MN's high tech economy.  So, contact your federal representative/senators and let them know what you think.  

U of M’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) – Rocking into 2012 – Great stuff happening at the OTC’s Venture Center. Jay Schrankler and his team have dramatically increased the velocity of on-campus startup development. Read up here about some of the new technologies rolling into commercialization (from today’s Tech Showcase at UEL).

It's Business Plan Competition Season:  With spring coming (yes...), the B-plan competitions are on the way.  Here are two to check out:  MN Cup; Clean Tech Open.

A few events of note:

Feb 8 – MN 2012 Entrepreneur Kick-Off – hosted by TiE MN, MN Cup, MOJO and others. Details here.

Feb 10-12 – Startup Weekend Twin Cities – great weekend where teams go from concept to business pitch. Details here.

Enjoy the freeze and keep the idea juices flowing.

Ernest Grumbles, Co-founder, MOJO Minnesota

Minnesota Radical CEO #4

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: June 5, 2011 - 9:54 PM
What’s old is what’s new. Or at least, what’s new is what’s happening for the old. We are about to experience a massive demographic shift in the United States such that by 2050, senior citizens will make up 20% of the population. Our nation, still young itself on the world stage, has never focused on the needs of the aging as much as other cultures have. Marketers, product developers, and software developers have seen those 18-30 as the drivers of demand and innovation. Well, get ready for the shift.
Kathryn Roberts, President and CEO of Ecumen (, a 4,000 employee senior services non-profit based in the Twin Cities, recognized this coming change for the opportunity that it is. Ecumen, aiming to better serve what will be the largest population group in new, positive ways, has led the way with an open focus on innovation and technology. As a result of Kathryn’s vision, Ecumen, formerly the Board of Social Ministry, re-branded in 2004, shifted primary focus from nursing homes to senior housing, and now routinely engages with the tech community to look for ways to improve the life of its clients. 
As one example, Ecumen now employs GE’s QuietCare technology in much of its housing. QuietCare monitors and transmits information on residents’ daily activities, looking for deviations from routine that could indicate distress or incapacitation. Ecumen is also an active partner with Mill City Commons, working to build a virtual senior-oriented community that overlays the real neighborhood in view of the Guthrie and aims at keeping people in their neighborhood “for life.”   Seniors in Ecumen’s system also have access to Ecumen Connects, a social network that connects seniors with each other and allows for viewing and sharing many types of digital content. 
As a result of these other critical innovation steps, Ecumen is on solid financial and operational footing and is a national leader in harnessing technology for the benefit of our growing aging population (not just for teens and 20-somethings).
Kathryn Roberts Facts:·        
  • Kathryn graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.A. in Psychology, received an M.S. in Special Education from Mankato State University and has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University of Minnesota
  • The first woman appointed to lead a major zoo, at age 34, she took over operations of the Minnesota Zoo, dramatically increased attendance and revenues and built the first environmental high school located at a zoo.
  • Kathryn led the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission in the effort to keep the Minnesota Twins in Minnesota (successfully!).
  • She is chair of the Minnesota Veterans Health Care Advisory Council.
  • Prior to joining Ecumen, Kathryn was vice president of the Minneapolis Foundation.
Her Awards/Recognitions:
  • Named as one of the Twin Cities’ “Best Brains” by MSP Magazine in 2008.
  • Member of the Boards of LeadingAge, VocalEssence and Northland College in Ashland, WI
  • Honored by the U. of Minnesota’s College of Education as one of its 100 Distinguished Alumni in the first 100 years of the College
Some quotes by Kathryn:
  •  “[P]eople want to stay in their own homes and . . . people really need support to do it so that they’re not isolated and they’re getting the services they need. They need to be empowered to be as independent as they possibly can be.”   
  • “This is an incredible time to be doing work in changing aging. The forces of consumer desire, demographics, technology, public policy and longevity have created such fertile ground for collaboration and innovation in Minnesota and far beyond.”
  • "We are working to create a suite of services that will give a dispersed group of individuals a shopping suite of everything from groceries delivered to dog-sitters to picking up your daughter at the airport, with Ecumen’s stamp of approval. There would be health components. Within a neighborhood people would communicate and have a social network and support for each other. It’s all about creating ways to empower people.”  


Is Government the Enemy of Business...? No.

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: April 1, 2011 - 7:48 AM
In a previous post, I shared some thoughts on why entrepreneurship is a social justice issue – namely that innovation and commerce are fundamentally human activities. You can’t separate people and business.  And the business of the people is what generates amazing opportunities for growth, creativity and improvement in quality of life. In short, “business” is not the enemy of the people, but a vital activity of the people and society at large. Individual businesses that get this tend to have amazing success. 
I wanted to flip this around and deal with another false supposition – that government (of the people) is somehow an enemy of business. There is talk (and action) in a number of states to strip government of its economic development role based on the notion that government can do nothing to promote the economy, only shackle it. But government is not the enemy of business and the economy – anymore than it’s the enemy of the people. 
Government is Us
Let’s start with a different way to think about government. Government is not a “them.” Neither is “business” a “them.” Rather, both are “us.” We have the privilege and good fortune to live in a democracy – meaning, the government is picked by us. And that’s true at every level from city council all the way up to the President. The government is us, which, in 1776, was a radical notion. For better or worse (I think better), we don’t get to point to government as something imposed on us from above, but rather something raised up from the people. If you’re looking at government (or business), you’re looking in the mirror. And that includes everyone, even people you don’t agree with.
Civil Order is Essential to Society and Business
What about the notion that government is simply unnecessary? Let’s rewind for a minute. Imagine a scene on the landscape a million years ago. After a successful outing bagging an oversized mammal, two good folks got into a tussle over dividing it. Next thing, one is about to club the other into submission and it’s an all-out melee. Up walks the biggest/strongest member of the group, realizing chaos is about to ensue, and demands that the fighting stop (under penalty of more pain). The two fighters scratch their heads and figure out a better solution. Thus was born the rather common sense solution that an impartial figure could mediate conflicts and prevent them from happening in the first place – government. 
While we would be better off individually (for a short time) if we could do exactly what we wanted whenever we wanted, we would all collectively be worse off. Would you extend that privilege to all of your neighbors? People in other cities and towns? The answer is no, of course. Take pollution laws. Do you really think people should be able to dump garbage in city parks? Or dump harmful materials in lakes and streams without meaningful controls? While some people and businesses could save money by dumping, we would all be worse off, especially future generations. 
Government then acts to balance various private interests for the aggregate common good – a tricky feat no doubt. But a worthy endeavor. We, as the people, have the right to establish minimum standards of conduct that we all have to live by – whether as citizens or as the businesses those citizens create. Maintaining civil order and accountability to these minimum standards is what enables commerce to occur in a peaceable fashion – a level playing field for new business creation and innovation. Speaking of playing fields, wouldn’t it be great if we could get rid of referees and out of bounds in football? How about annoying rules against personal fouls? Clipping anyone? Exactly. The game would turn to chaos, and people would abandon it - like businesses do with commercial markets that lack order, regulation and consistency.
So government is – the people, giving voice to the people in all their variety – and it acts to prevent chaos and “ensure domestic tranquility.” Businesses rise and fall, but government must persist through it all. There are simply too many common problems in civil society that private business is unable or unwilling to address. 
Does the foregoing mean that government is always run smoothly, efficiently and honestly? No, clearly not. It’s a human institution. There are many ways government can be run better to achieve public good at lower cost. Are all private businesses run smoothly, efficiently and honestly? Of course not. But we hope most are. Government is not the enemy. And neither is business. Rather, poorly run government and business are the problem.
Government’s Essential Role in Economic Development
So let’s re-focus on government’s role in economic development. While government’s role as civil referee is critical to a stable economy, we can and should expect our government to be more than reactive on issues of economic development. Government can, and must, afford to take a longer range view than business. In close collaboration with the private sector, government can move on public policies and public-private initiatives that open new markets, support entrepreneurs, maintain a steady supply of educated, enterprising folks, preserve infrastructure and maintain that level playing field to let business – another vital human institution – thrive.
Will government be the primary player in economic development? No. It needs to come organically from citizens driving their dreams, creating new products and service, and generating opportunities for new jobs and new business development. On the converse, will business be the primary protector of public good? No. While businesses need to have a strong sense of community engagement and community values, and act on such sense, they need to drive for market success and compete in a way fundamentally different than government. We need both, working together in an open, honest, creative and non-adversarial way to keep forward progress.
So to the folks around the country pushing to out-source, privatize, and/or shutter government programs around economic development, I would first ask what steps they have taken to engage with government to evaluate, discuss and improve existing programs. Have they sat down with their fellow citizens in government to work on creative solutions? Have they considered the increased cost to their communities of shutting down existing government programs and creating brand new private ones (that will need foundation funding)? It may very well be that certain government programs are ineffectual and need to cease. But going into this analysis with the false belief that government can only hinder commerce pre-ordains the conclusion. 

Business and government, time to friendly up and have honest discussions about the critical role that each plays in our common peace and prosperity and how to achieve outcomes efficiently and collaboratively. 

2010: A Minnesota Startup/Innovation Highlights Reel

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: December 31, 2010 - 1:10 PM
2010 was an amazing year for startup action and activism in Minnesota. The community is coming together in recognition that the innovation economy can’t be grown through luck or grand schemes – but from real digging in the Minnesota soil. This means a macro/micro focus – improving the overall ecosystem for new technology and business launch and engaging directly with startups. 
Here are just a few 2010 highlights (in no particular order) that are keeping Minnesota on the front burner:
(a)    Tax Credits - Angel Investor/R&D
The 10-year wait is over – Minnesota got an angel tax credit. And none too soon. With our friendly neighbors friendlying up to our local tech community with siren songs of support and subsidies, the Gov and Legislature hunkered down and got us not just a robust angel tax credit - but a generously expanded R&D tax credit (10% of the first $2 million in R&D expenses over base expense).  And the R&D tax credit is fully refundable, which is great benefit for early-stage companies.
(b)   MN Science & Technology Authority (STA)
Another bipartisan gift from the Governor and Legislature. The STA, overseen by the Commissioners of DEED, Revenue, Management & Budget, Commerce and Agriculture, supported by a blue-ribbon Advisory Commission of business and tech leaders and headed by Executive Director Betsy Lulfs, is developing a lead role in state-level technology and innovation policy. On the drawing board – a possible state-level venture program, startup mentoring and other programs. Keep an eye on the STA and support ED Betsy Lulfs’ budget ask at the Legislature this winter/spring. The STA will be an energetic force to push Minnesota tech and emerging business leadership.
(c)    Project Skyway
Project Skyway, a community-powered startup accelerator, came out of the box this past fall and is roaring toward an April initial application process. Founder Cem Erdem (the CEO/founder of Augusoft), is bent on launching startups with lasting power – and he’s putting his own hard-fought green behind it. Rock on, Cem. Other incubators and accelerators are coming down the pipeline. Stay tuned.
The worldwide startup lost weekend came to the Twin Cities this past September and filled CoCo MSP with 100+ brainstorming/non-sleeping folks. The crowd, big as typical Manhattan events, energized national leadership so much that they included the Twin Cities in the Global Startup Battle just a few months later. Keep an eye out for SUW winners Qonqr, Dueling Dates, Rock Your Block, What I Want for Christmas, Heavy Analytics, Sign Universal and others for success in 2011.
(e)    Startup Media
Minnesota is now blessed with four media sources with a significant focus on startup technology and business development – Tech.MN, MedCityNews and The Line, joining longtime web tech stalwart Minnov8 as well as other business media sources (StarTribune; Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal; Minnesota Business; Twin Cities Business). In other words, the startup scene matters, and not just because new technology is fun to learn about. Startups are where the new jobs are going to come from and if we don’t have information about them, we can hardly support them. So, hats off to these newer media sources.  Business journalism is alive and well in Minnesota.
(f)     The OTC Opens The Cupboard
Schrankler, Johnson, Straate and Porter – the four horsemen of U tech transfer – cranked up the fire. In the 2008/2009 time period, the Office of Technology Commercialization (Venture Center) spun out just 5 startups. But the vault unlocked in last 12 months. In 2010 alone, the U spun out 8 startups and has several more in the pipeline. With on-campus startup training for professors, the U is working to aggressively push new tech out into the community. 
(g)    Co-Working
The coastal trend hit the Land of Lakes. We now have co-working and collaborative workspaces in both Minneapolis and St. Paul and developing sites in neighboring suburbs. I’ve personally spent time at both CoCo MSP and Third Place and greatly enjoy the camaraderie and open work atmosphere. In the new economic world where cost efficiency and collaboration matter more than ever, these places are leading the charge.   
(h)    Community Action
What is the gift of place? What are the unique things a place contributes, whether to arts, science, business or dialogue? I say one of the most important things Minnesota contributes is a sense of community purpose – from the ground up. Lots of places talk community-building – Minnesota lives it. Maybe it’s frontier common sense, from living in a place that required joint action for joint survival. Maybe it’s the community-oriented values of immigrant communities of past and present. Whatever the cause, a community focus allows for community action. This has led to Minnesota’s high work ethic and high quality of life. We expect our schools and communities to succeed because we are in there making it happen.
This community focus helps the startup community as well. There are now lots of opportunities – groups, places, events - for startups to connect with fellow entrepreneurs as well as investors, supporters and policymakers. An incomplete list includes: Minnesota Cup, MinneBar/Demo, MOJO Minnesota (my org.), MHTA, BioBusiness Alliance/LifeScience Alley, The Collaborative, BizLounge, JJ Hill, Holmes Center, Club Entrepreneur, Mobile Twin Cities, Social Media Breakfast, TiE, Bootstrappers’ Breakfast, RainSource Capital and others. Each of these provides its own special gift to the startup community and works for common purpose.
Bottom Line 2010: Minnesota has been a great place to build new technologies and new enterprise, and with momentum like 2010, we’re going to keep up the tradition.

Do You Know Any Entrepreneurs? 5 Questions for the Elected (Newly and Otherwise

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: November 17, 2010 - 6:06 AM

The public sector has a critical role in helping to promote tech innovation and entrepreneurship.  If communities (and their elected leaders) want high-value job growth, then help the startup companies that grow those jobs.   With transitions afoot at the state and federal levels, here are a few questions for the newly-elected as well as those continuing in elected office.  We need answers!

(a) Do you know any entrepreneurs?  These are the folks creating the high-growth jobs.  Do you know any?  Not just the wildly-successful who are established players.  But the college kids growing green tech out of the U.  Or the design engineers leaving day jobs to build medical devices.  You'll need their support when they're wildly successful.  They need your help now.

(b) How many startups are in your district?  They're out there.  And they're going to put your district or region on the map - if you give them a chance.  If you can't answer this question, let's talk.

(c) How does your job affect new business development?  Yes, contrary to popular opinion, government has a vital role in supporting new enterprise.  While if managed poorly, government can be a barrier, that's true of many community assets, people, organizations that could be otherwise optimized to help tech growth.  Think about this everyday - how is what I'm doing helping building tech innovation and job growth?

(d) Name three features of a strong innovation economy.  These are the signposts - what to look for and what to create (if you're having to look too hard).  Here are a few: (1) good access to early-stage risk capital; (2) world-class research facilities; (3) a culture that understands risk and can manage it with zeal; (4) successful entrepreneurs giving back; (5) a willingness to market the amazing things already there.  Keep adding to this list.  It's just a start.

(e) What will you do to drive innovation and job growth in Minnesota?  These are the specific things you will do - whether reaching out to startups to hear their needs, supporting tech- and innovation-friendly bills and/or administrative policies or putting the spotlight on the amazing companies in your district already off the launchpad.



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