Mike Bishop, a software engineer and music producer from St. Paul, sat in the audience in July at MinneDemo, a regular gathering where Twin Cities tech workers show their latest projects, and vowed to himself to be onstage at the next one.
Thursday night, Bishop and his brother Scott took the stage at the end of the latest MinneDemo event and showed for the first time in public a project they’ve been working on for two years: a system called RecordTogether for musicians to write and record music via the Internet.
“I’ve been to the last four or five of these, and after the last one I said, ‘Man, we’re going to do it this time, we’re going to put together a presentation,’ ” Mike Bishop said. “It was something to work toward. You’ve gotta start somewhere.”
Since 2006, technology firms and the technologists inside many companies around the region have been using MinneDemo events to pressure themselves, show off their work, find new talent and attract investment. The event, hosted by a local trade group called Minnestar, has grown in size and frequency. Thursday’s gathering, the 21st, nearly filled the 700-seat Riverview Theater in south Minneapolis and was featured in the annual Twin Cities Startup Week events for techies and investors.
Its format and rules are always the same: Seven companies make presentations and have only seven minutes to do their best. Between presentations, sponsoring companies who pay for the evening’s food, drinks and venue make their own pitches, chiefly for more workers.
Chip Pearson, an executive at JAMF Software, in his company’s sponsor moment spoke of the competitiveness and camaraderie of the region’s fast-growing tech firms, “Even though we’re all hiring, we’re all a community.”
More than 30 companies applied to present at Thursday’s MinneDemo, with the final seven selected by leaders of Minnestar. As at past events, the organizers chose a mix of presenters. Entrepreneurs looking to turn ideas from hobbies into businesses shared the stage with some of the fastest-growing tech firms in the region.
Aaron Kardell, chief executive of HomeSpotter, showed the newest version of the Minneapolis company’s app, which is used by people shopping for homes and their real estate agents. He began his presentation by recalling the first time he was on the MinneDemo stage, in 2010. He said he recently saw a video of that event and didn’t think he did very well. On Friday, he said Thursday’s event went much better.
“When I presented back in early 2010, we were at a very different spot,” Kardell said. “I was a one-man shop and had just launched our first client. Let’s just say my presentation skills have improved considerably since then.”
The latest event also marked a return to the spotlight for a Minneapolis company that formed at Twin Cities Startup Week five years ago, Qonqr, maker of an interactive video game of global geopolitical strife and war.
“How many Minnesota companies have their product being used in more than 200 countries around the world?” Scott Davis, Qonqr’s chief, asked on the stage. “3M? Medtronic? Qonqr is on that list.”
The firm will soon release a new version of its game and, after the presentation, Davis said he thought it was the right moment to reconnect. “We haven’t engaged the start-up community or business community for awhile,” Davis said. He noted that, since the bootstrap-financed company hasn’t needed to raise capital, it’s difficult to get attention.
For Stephen Fluin and Stefanie Trimble, developers of OccamScan, an app in which consumers can scan grocery receipts and learn where they could have paid less, MinneDemo provided a moment of truth. “Every time you show it to one person, they may say it’s great,” Fluin said. “Until you try it at some sort of scale, you can’t see if it’s viable.”
The early verdict? “We got tons and tons of great feedback,” Fluin said.