Thief River Falls-based Digi-Key, a quiet giant with 2,600 employees and a global reach, was the sponsor of Saturday's Minnesota State Robotics Competition at Williams Arena. Nearly 800 students from across Minnesota and their team robots battled (circuit board to circuit board) in a competition that included a few flying saucers.

"We call robotics the varsity sport for the mind," quipped Tony Harris, chief marketing officer of Digi-Key. "This is kind of our version of a hockey tournament. We've got hundreds of kids and schools involved in all kinds of neat robotics. It's free, it's fun and we're glad to join the Minnesota State High School League in shining a light on the competition."

Digi-Key, an Internet-based distributor of the electronic components that go into phones, cars and other equipment, also is interested in expanding the talent pool and furthering math and science education.

"These kids are the innovators of tomorrow," Harris said. Digi-Key also is the sponsor of hometown favorite, Thief River Falls Lincoln High School's "Robotics Team Pro-Digi," one of the state finalists.

Harris, a former University of St. Thomas lineman dubbed Buddha by teammates, was dwarfed Saturday by King Robota, an 8-foot-tall interactive celebrity robot.

U.S. Bank and affordable housing

U.S. Bank says it made $253 million in Twin Cities community development loans and other investments, up 17 percent from 2011. That money funded new affordable housing and revived vacant properties. The company said the Twin Cities was its single-biggest recipient of community development loans, tax credit investments and philanthropy. Banks insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. are graded by bank regulators, in addition to their financial health, on service to low-income neighborhoods. U.S. Bank's investments include:

Twin Cities Restoration Fund, which provides developers access to short-term capital they need to redevelop properties in neighborhoods hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.

Sienna Green II, a 50-unit affordable housing project in Roseville developed by nonprofit developer Aeon and financed by U.S. Bank.

The Schmidt Artist Lofts to which U.S. Bank provided $72.4 million in financing for Twin Cities-based Dominium to redevelop St. Paul's historic Schmidt Brewery into loft apartments. In April, U.S. Bank committed $5.5 million to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity's new headquarters in St. Paul.

Grossman fund aids African center

The African Development Center has won a $410,000 "transformational grant" designed to help the nonprofit small-business developer and financial-education counselor "move to the next level."

The Transformational Fund, sponsored by the Minnesota Community Foundation, is made possible by the Pat and Tom Grossman Family Fund, and provides a one-time grant of up to $500,000. The money will help ADC meet demand for accounting services and tax preparation to a growing number of immigrant businesses.

ADC Executive Director Hussein Samatar said the grant "will help us push our clients to be integrated into mainstream economies much more quickly and allow them to stay up-to-date on other types of forecasting and analysis to help reach their business goals." Tom Grossman, a foundation board member and CEO of Metropolitan Corp., an auto retailer, said: "Helping an organization that helps others provide jobs is a level of sustainability that is important to me and my family."

Fast-growing, womAn-led

Jennifer Smith's Innovative Office Solutions and eCapital Advisors, a business analytics and performance management company owned by Lisa David, are two of the top 50 fastest-growing women-owned/led companies in the land, according to American Express OPEN, the small-business division of AmEx, and the 110-chapter Women Presidents' Organization.

Smith's 12-year-old Burnsville-based company saw revenue grow from $32.8 million to $48.6 million since 2011. She has added six employees. David's 12-year old Bloomington-based company more than doubled its gross revenue to $15.9 million, and she hired on 17 workers since 2011.

Ethics award winners

The 2013 Minnesota Business Ethics Award (MBEA) winners are: Cresa Minneapolis/St. Paul (small), Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union (medium) and two large business honorees, Cummins Power Generation and St. Francis Regional Medical Center. The MBEA recognizes businesses for embedding ethical standards into their cultures and practices. The sponsors are the Twin Cities Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals, National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the Center for Ethical Business Cultures (CEBC) at the University of St. Thomas business school.