To see how business is changing through the pandemic, go no further than Minneapolis software firm MentorMate.
Demand that began surging in mid-year is only increasing as companies want to figure out how to leverage data to transform their businesses and make it easier for customers.
In its latest pivot, which the company refers to it as MentorMate 5.0, the focus is on digital transformation. Clients want MentorMate to develop or upgrade their software so it serves as a single source for strategic guidance, design and engineering, said Jay Miller, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.
"It's almost like the new currency now is measured in minutes rather than dollars. And by that, I mean just our ability to go fast," he said. "The faster we can go, our clients keep asking for more. There doesn't seem to be much of a limit. I talk about our discipline in terms of growth, but we are working with ever-larger clients with ever-increasing appetites."
As a result, MentorMate is evolving its business to focus on its bigger clients such as AstraZeneca and UnitedHealth Group. With the shift, MentorMate has continued to see 20% yearly revenue growth even through the pandemic.
The company now has more than 700 employees working in 20 countries — including five offices in Bulgaria — and expects to top 1,000 workers in the next two years, Miller said. The Minneapolis office employs 60.
MentorMate also has expanded its cloud computing practice, creating a center for excellence, and formed a consulting practice to offer business architecture and technical architecture guidance. It has built a human-centered design team because, Miller said, "the best engineering in the world can't overcome bad design."
For the expansion, it recently made some key hires in senior business architect Jay Matre, a former partner at ThreeBridge digital consulting firm; Paul Sanders, formerly of the Radisson Hotel Group, on digital experience platforms and content; David Fiedler as design director, from ICF Next; and Kim Bassett, who was formerly lead technology portfolio manager at U.S. Bank, as senior project manager.
The cloud practice got a boost earlier this month with the acquisition of Data Cloud Solutions, a data management company in Bulgaria. The acquisition answers the growing demand from enterprise clients for expanded capabilities in areas such as data architecture, business intelligence and machine learning, Miller said. It's also a building block toward building out MentorMate's capability in artificial intelligence.
"There is an opportunity now to take all of this in and transform [clients'] businesses," Miller said. "They have the vision in some ways to connect the dots, but it requires someone with technical expertise to start to see through all the pixels and figure out how things come together."
The need is particularly acute in health care, which Miller said is MentorMate's largest and fastest-growing industry.
"End-users are constantly juggling disparate systems, IDs and passwords," Miller said. "At the core of digital transformation is the promise to better integrate personalized content and credentials."
Inspire Medical Systems, a company that makes an implantable device to treat sleep apnea, had MentorMate develop an app that helps educate prospective and current patients about its therapy, how to use it and how to find the doctors offering it, said John Rondoni, senior vice president of research, development and ventures at the Golden Valley company.
MentorMate now is building the user experience elements of a new version of the remote control that patients use to turn the device on and off.
"They're able to come back with really compelling designs," Rondoni said of MentorMate's work on the remote. "It looks like a trusted medical device but feels like something that's as attractive as any other consumer product."
Looking ahead, MentorMate sees a significant opportunity to capitalize on its success with AstraZeneca in Sweden to expand business in Nordic countries.
Miller sees MentorMate's push into digital transformation fueling expansion for the next five to 10 years. Much faster top-line growth is possible, though "whether that's a good idea for our business is something we have to take very seriously," Miller said.
MentorMate's onshore-offshore blend, with a leadership team in Minneapolis and designers throughout Bulgaria, enables it to offer services as a "blended global rate" that's less than what having the same work done in the United States would cost.
However, MentorMate's desire to do more work with larger clients and international ones means it may no longer be the best fit for some smaller ones. "We're just getting to be too large of a machine to manage hundreds of small clients," Miller said.
MentorMate got its start developing a teaching tool on the Palm Pilot in 2001 — which inspired the company's name — and still has educational clients, as well customers in manufacturing and finance, including the Royal Bank of Canada.
With the iPhone's 2007 launch, the company pivoted to mobile development while, over the past 10 years, it has expanded into end-to-end development services, completing more than 1,400 systems since its inception. Taylor Corp., owned by Star Tribune owner Glen Taylor, acquired MentorMate in 2014.
MentorMate augments in-house software engineers developing K-12 educational solutions for Edmentum, said Paul Johansen, chief technical officer of the company, which has offices in Bloomington.
"Technology is a hard space to be able to recruit employees to, so it provides us access to an entirely different talent market," Johansen said. "With Bulgaria, it's certainly entirely different but a good economical way to find additional engineering talent to expand the team as we need to."
MentorMate's Minneapolis employees, who have worked remotely for two years after the company's lease expired in the pandemic's early days, are set to move into space in Uptown's MoZaic West building in December, returning to the neighborhood where they previously worked.
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is email@example.com.