Mike Werch, who started Video Guidance in 1999, is merging his Bloomington-based video conference company with London-based BCS Global Networks.

BCS, which operates mostly in Europe and Asia, started the courtship in 2013 and pursued Video Guidance to broaden its product and geographic portfolio. The unspecified cash-stock deal is expected to close within a few weeks between the private companies. Werch will get paid over the next four years, partly based on performance.

"They did a nice job of keeping us shackled," Werch quipped.

"They are a global company that links continents and we are growing nicely and we sell services more than hardware and that's where the industry is going. We have recently opened locations in Denver, Southern California, Indiana and North Carolina. And we did it with hopes that this deal would come to fruition."

Werch will be president of North American operations and continue to operate under the Video Guidance name. The combined operation of 115 employees expects revenue of $25 million next year. It will boast integrated video conference and telephonic solutions that enable interactive audio, video and Web collaboration for participants from their mobile devices, desktops, homes and offices.

Werch previously worked for three companies, Sprint, Norstan and Acoustic Communications Systems, which had only peripheral interest in teleconferencing. So, he started his own that focused exclusively on teleconference sales-and customized services. And the technology and quality level improved and cost-to-travel ratio declined over the years of building the business.

Veeneman Makes Progress With Entrepreneurial 'Go Buy Local'

It's taken four years, but Bill Veeneman, the former Target and U.S. Bank veteran, has gained traction with his Go Buy Local (www.gobuylocal.com).

Go Buy partners with 950 local businesses in 24 Twin Cities-area and western Wisconsin communities through multichannel marketing designed to build customer awareness and loyalty, while generating merchant donations for local schools and charities that are chosen by the customers.

"The execution [and scale] have finally gone to the level I had hoped we would achieve," said Veeneman. "Click on the ads. Download the deal. Select a school or cause. The transaction will generate from 50 cents to $100 [through realty agents]. We've been able to finally achieve our dream of doing it in real time."

Veeneman, 65, is an upbeat, chuckle-at-himself guy who with other investors has put about $4.5 million into a venture designed to provide big-company marketing tools to small merchants and other businesses.

And he can see positive cash flow ahead for the 12-employee Minneapolis company as it continues to build business partners and transactions.

Veeneman calls it "social gifting" because participating merchants make a gift to the school or charity of the customer's choice on every transaction through Go Buy Local. And the software automatically collects and accumulates the totals.

"We are writing checks every week from $50 to $200 to individual schools and nonprofit causes," Veeneman said. "The customer gets a deal and a donation to reward them for their patronage when the customer brings in the deal in print or on their phone or tablet. It builds loyalty and recognition [for the business] by supporting local schools and causes.

"And we've woven in the social media capability to notify other members of say, the DeLaSalle High School community, to say, why not use Go Buy Local to help raise money."

Desender May Be Released Early From Prison

Federal prosecutors are urging early release of an imprisoned fraudster whose testimony helped send businessman Robert Walker to prison for 25 years for the $57 million Bixby Energy Systems fraud.

Dennis L. Desender, 67, formerly of Minneapolis, is serving a 97-month sentence in the Duluth federal prison for securities fraud and tax evasion in the Bixby scam. He served as CFO of the company for years, rounding up investors with phony promises of profits from a clean-coal technology that never worked.

The company, once based in Ramsey, failed, leaving many investors with nothing.

Desender testified in U.S. District Court in St. Paul last February that Walker, as Bixby's CEO, knew all about the fraud.

That helped prosecutors win a conviction against Walker, 72, who gained fame in the 1980s as inventor of the Sleep Number bed before launching Bixby in 2001.

In a recent court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benjamin Langner and David MacLaughlin asked Judge Susan Richard Nelson to reduce Defender's sentence to 50 months, or almost by half, as a reward for his cooperation. If the judge eventually agrees, that would make Desender eligible for release in the near future.

David Shaffer

Public hearings on Sandpiper pipeline

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has scheduled five hearings for people to share their views on whether the proposed $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline is needed to carry North Dakota oil across northern Minnesota. These hearings will not focus on route controversies, which will be addressed later.

St. Paul: 2 p.m. Jan. 5, St. Paul RiverCentre;

Duluth: 2 p.m. Jan. 6, Downtown Holiday Inn.

Bemidji: 2 p.m. Jan. 7, Hobson Union.

Crookston: 2 p.m. Jan. 8, Crookston Inn & Convention Center.

St. Cloud: 2 p.m. Jan. 9, St. Cloud River's Edge Convention Center.

SHORT TAKES

• The Minneapolis marketing agency Little has been selected by U.S. Bank to be its new branding agency of record. Little's duties for the financial behemoth include a refreshing of the U.S. Bank brand and updated messaging to consumers.

Little's work could get even broader exposure if U.S. Bank scores the naming rights for the new Vikings football stadium, as has been rumored.

Robert Stern, program manager of the Minnesota College Savings Plan, says the state's 529 plan has seen an uptick in recent years of seniors contributing to 529 education-savings plans for their grandchildren. As long as funds are withdrawn for qualified education expenses, the money can both grow and be withdrawn tax-free. You can set up a fund with as little as $25 or as much as $325,000. The low-fee program investment manager is TIAA-CREF. More information: www.mnsaves.org