James Bellefeuille, a 2011 graduate of the University of St. Thomas, was a disappointed young entrepreneur to learn a few days ago that his Vugo, a ride-share vehicle-advertising network, didn’t make the cut for September’s finals of the Minnesota Cup competition.
However, Bellefeuille and his partners, who raised seed capital of $250,000 in June and seek to expand their Minneapolis-based operation, have been overjoyed with the technology-trade press in recent days over a new Vugo electronic wrinkle that allows customers to tip their Uber drivers through the Vugo app.
Several thousand Uber drivers who use Vugo by displaying its app on a tablet mounted in their cars, can now make more with the “tip your driver” button. Uber didn’t provide an electronic tipping mechanism, despite driver requests. Uber drivers could be tipped only in cash. And many passengers assumed the tip was included in the fare.
Bellefeuille should know. He was a part-time Uber driver for a couple of years and launched Vugo in February as a way to help drivers earn extra income. They get 60 percent of the revenue from the ads. That averages $3 per hour per driver. He said the best market so far for Vugo is Los Angeles, also one of the ride-sharing economy’s hottest and largest markets.
Bellefeuille will be showcasing the company at Beta.MN, one of the events sponsored by advocates of the Minnesota fledgling-business economy that is part of Twin Cities Startup Week Sept. 8-13.
The www.twincitiesstartupweek.com activities were an overwhelming hit in 2014, so supporters doubled the number of events for this year, said co-founder Ryan Broshar.
In addition to visits to a variety of companies, there will be myriad seminars on everything from raising funds to marketing strategies, and more than a few beer-and-briefing sessions.
The formal activities include: the Minnesota Cup, formed more than a decade ago to surface and support some of Minnesota’s innovative business and social enterprise ideas; Beta.MN, gatherings of “friends and founders” in support of Minnesota’s start-up community; and Minne, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting the Minnesota technology community and promoting high-tech entrepreneurship.
Companies involved in last year’s activities included Elevate, which raised $500,000 and was a Minnesota Cup technology division winner; BoomBoom Prints, which has raised $400,000; 75F, the winner of the Minnesota Cup and which has raised about $1 million; LeadPages, which has raised $11 million and is considered one of the state’s fastest-growing companies; and Vidku, which raised $17 million earlier this year.
Burwell breakthrough at Abbott Northwestern
Barbara Burwell and sons Blake, Michael and Peter participated in “wall-breaking” ceremonies last week for the $28 million renovation and expansion of the Abbott Northwestern Hospital emergency department. Rod Burwell, the veteran Minnesota entrepreneur who died in April, and Barbara Burwell made a $3 million lead gift to kick off the project late last year.
In remarks to supporters last Tuesday, Barbara Burwell noted that she was born at the Minneapolis hospital and her husband died there. And they considered their gift one of their greatest-returning investments.
In an interview last December, Rod Burwell credited the Abbott emergency department with saving his life in 2014, during the course of a long illness. And the couple made their gift public in hopes of encouraging other donors in their desire to expand the facility and care to benefit others. The emergency department serves 50,000 people annually and serves about 40 percent of all Abbott admissions. The renovated facility will serve about 60,000 annually, providing faster triage for critically ill patients, expanded space for mental health crisis care and greater readiness for community emergencies.
Poet Inc. says it spent $3.1 billion in 2014
One of the nation’s largest ethanol producers, Poet Inc., with 27 plants including four in Minnesota, says it spent $3.1 billion in 2014 on corn, labor and other goods and services to produce 1.7 billion gallons of ethanol and 4.6 million tons of animal feed.
Poet is a private company and doesn’t usually disclose its finances. In an economic impact study released Thursday, Poet said its Minnesota plants in Bingham Lake, Glenville, Lake Crystal and Preston spent $339 million last year, mostly to buy corn. That included $11 million to pay 172 employees, the study said.
Most of Poet’s ethanol plants are jointly owned with local farmers, but were built and are managed by the Sioux Falls, S.D., company.
The study, released for the 10-year anniversary of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, can be downloaded via strib.mn/Poet15
Mankato power plant to cost up to $300 million
The expansion of the Calpine Corp. generating station in Mankato will cost $220 million to $300 million and will employ up to 250 workers during two years of construction, according to a regulatory filing.
When completed in June 2018, the Mankato Energy Center is expected to add two full-time employees, for a total of 19 workers.
The project will add a second natural gas turbine and other equipment to produce electricity for Xcel Energy, the state’s largest power company. The estimated construction cost previously had been declared a trade secret by Calpine, of Houston.
The Mankato plant, which opened in 2005, uses an efficient technology called combined cycle to generate power in two ways. First, natural gas is burned in a turbine similar to a jet engine; then the exhaust heat is captured in a radiator-like device to make steam that spins a second, traditional steam turbine.
The steam turbine was designed to operate with a second gas turbine, said the filing by the Wenck Associates engineering firm.