Marketing Architects, a Minnetonka-based agency, has helped launch and promote some 1,000 ­products over its 18-year life.

In 2011, the 70-person company created Zoomworks, a product-development subsidiary. And last week, Marketing Architects sold its first Zoomworks business, the HurryCane all-terrain walking cane to Drive Medical of New York, a manufacturer of durable medical equipment.

Terms were not disclosed. The sale price was said to be several million dollars for a company that has sold about $50 million worth of HurryCanes since it launched in 2012.

"Drive will distribute it internationally and more broadly than it is today," said Marketing Architects CEO Chuck Hengel. "Our team took on the challenge of reinventing the traditional walking cane, and over the past three years, we've been gratified to see it improve so many lives across the United States. Drive Medical can bring this life-changing device to people on a global scale."

Marketing Architects also gets to eat more of the cake it just baked. It will remain the ad agency for the HurryCane under the new owner.

Hengel said each of the agency's 70 employees will share at least something from the sale proceeds, which exceeds the amount Marketing Architects had invested.

The HurryCane, which retails for about $40, has a pivoting base and three-prong bottom designed to maximize flexibility and stability. And it stands on its own. Hengel said falling is the No. 1 reason why the elderly go to the hospital.

"We're excited about the impact the HurryCane brand will have on our existing product portfolio," CEO Harvey Diamond of Drive Medical said in a prepared statement. "We recognized the ability of Marketing Architects to effectively brand and market HurryCane and the potential our partnership with them will have on our existing product lines."

Hengel said the deal demonstrates Marketing Architects' ability to turn a creative concept into a brand ­success and eventual sale. The agency has 20-plus products launched or in the pipeline at Zoomworks.

That would include Stuffies, a children's plush animal sold by Target and other retailers.

Kaster and Cleantech Open are on the move

Justin Kaster, a one-time investment banker and founder and executive director of the Cleantech Open Midwest in 2009, has resigned to open 2100 Advisors, a consultancy that will focus on supporting innovation in clean energy, water, food and agriculture.

"This is a for-profit company that builds on my experience and passion for innovation, and we will be an advisory practice working with different types of entities, … whether economic developers, government, corporations or investors.

"Secondly, we will focus on young talent in the sectors we've selected, including advanced energy, water tech and food and agriculture. We think millennials will be disruptive and will push corporations. They will push the economic and workforce opportunities."

Kaster, 38, will remain an adviser to the Cleantech Open Midwest ­advisory board.

The nonprofit Cleantech Open Midwest has moved to the University of St. Thomas' Schulze School of Entrepreneurship.

"The Cleantech Open is a well-run organization with a successful track record of helping early-stage companies build their business in ways that benefit the common good, while creating scalable business models, something we teach in the Schulze School," said Brian Abraham, associate dean of entrepreneurship at the Schulze School. "The Midwest Cleantech Open adds a flagship program to our portfolio."

The 2015 Cleantech Open Midwest, part of the national clean-tech business accelerator program, features 17 companies in a program that culminates in fall presentations and awards and spans industries from manufacturing to wastewater treatment to sustainable energy and green building technology. More information at

U.S.-made solar panels at Camp Ripley

Duluth-based electric utility Minnesota Power is planning to install 118,000 American-made panels at a large solar power project to be completed next year at the National Guard's Camp Ripley near Little Falls, Minn.

But the price tag is now $30 million, up from an earlier $25 million, because of higher overall costs and additional expenses mainly to upgrade the distribution system, the utility said in a filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Minnesota Power would develop the project with help from an engineering, procurement and contracting firm. The utility said an outside expert favored its bid over offers from three solar developers to build the project and sell the power under contract.

Electricity from the ground-mounted panels would serve all utility customers, not just the training camp, whose land is being used. To pay for the project, the average residential customer's bill will increase about 50 cents per month, the utility said.

The 10-megawatt system, one of the state's largest, initially would be owned by a financial institution and leased to Minnesota Power, which would operate it and eventually buy it. The PUC must approve the terms.

First Solar, based in Tempe, Ariz., with manufacturing in Perrysburg, Ohio, would supply panels that "offer the ability to collect diffuse light, which is crucial to efficient generation" in Minnesota's climate, the utility said. The panels will be set at a high angle to shed snow, the filing said.

David Shaffer
Trackif raises $ 5M in venture funding

Trackif, a Minnetonka-based online service that helps consumers keep tabs on prices for such items as KitchenAid mixers and Canon PowerShot digital cameras through Trackif's retailer partners, has raised $5 million in venture capital from Origin Ventures and Grotech Ventures, as well as existing investor Chicago Ventures.

"We're in a Pinterest economy now, where consumers want to pick and choose the products they want, from the sites they want, at the prices they want," according to Trackif CEO Doug Berg. "Shopping sites that embed this type of experience into their sites will not only delight their customers but can ­multiply their results."

Trackif says its technology enables e-commerce retailers to capture "future consumer purchase intent and convert it into newfound revenue by sending personalized e-mail alerts on changes such as price drops, new items and items coming back in stock."