Every story and newsletter published by Minne Inno seeks to highlight local individuals and businesses driving change in Minnesota. With our first 50 on Fire celebration, we want to shine a little extra light on the ones that are truly setting the scene on fire.

In the coming months leading up to 50 on Fire, we’ll be publishing stories about a handful of these fast-moving companies. We’ve already highlighted a few in the past, and will be sharing and updating those stories.

We invite you, your team, family, friends, or anyone interested in the Twin Cities tech, startup and innovation ecosystem to join us for a big party in January. We’ll share details on the exact date and location soon. At the event, we’ll announce the 10 people and/or companies that a panel of honorable judges have deemed to be the most “on fire.” These 10 will be our Inno Blazers, and will receive a sweet prize along with eternal glory in the startup community.

So what are the exact qualifications for being on fire? Glad you asked. We’re looking for companies or individuals that have had a banner year across a variety of categories, including technology, agriculture, civic engagement and more. This could include new fundings, exciting partnerships or tireless support for the startup community.

It’s impossible to quantify a healthy, thriving ecosystem with one single metric, like job growth or revenue. An emerging hub is the result of, yes, fast-growing companies, but also of new funds, hard-working mentors, locally focused investors, entrepreneurship professors, and many, many more.

A healthy ecosystem also reflects the breadth of innovation that’s happening in a particular market, not just in the tech sector but also in government and food and wellness and more. That’s why our inaugural 50 on First list is an eclectic list of people and companies from different industries and stages, representing all of the moving parts that make for an ecosystem that’s on fire.

Let’s get to know this year’s 50 on Fire!


Anudeep Parhar: As CIO at Entrust Datacard, Parhar has focused on building a team that provides operational efficiency and a lower overall cost delivery model. Parhar also helped establish the company’s new Office of the Chief Technology Officer to create alignment for growth.

Branch Messenger: The company relocated to the Twin Cities from California after participating in the first Target + Techstars retail accelerator in 2016. Since then, Branch Messenger has grown, adding more than a dozen people to its team in the last year. This summer, the startup raised $6.8 million.

Brett Brohl: This year, Brohl launched the Syndicate Fund and served as entrepreneur in residence for the Target + Techstars Retail program. He is also heavily involved in other areas of the startup community, including the Twin Cities emerging food and agriculture startup scene.

Eric Martell: Serves as managing director for gener8tor Minneapolis, which ran its first accelerator class this summer. Prior to leading gener8tor, Martell’s startup, Eat Street, was one of the first companies to go through Madison’s accelerator program.

Jeremy Gavin: Gavin is the leader of Screenfeed, a digital signage agency he originally bootstrapped. Screenfeed boasts a growth rate of more than 70 percent between 2014 and 2016. Last year, the company’s revenue surpassed $4 million

Joey Bertalan: Bertalan is a senior software engineer and team manager at The Nerdery. He’s a founding member of the Nerdery’s Innovation Lab, which recently built a Conference Tracker that displays attendee data captured throughout a conference in realtime. The software is used by local big data organization, MinneAnalytics.

Modus: Launched two new products, MX Studio and Lead Capture CONNECT, to help increase efficiency with sales and marketing teams.

Starting 11: Fantasy soccer app Starting 11 won the Minnesota Cup’s high tech division this year. After its official launch on August 1, the company predicted 2,500 downloads by the end of the year. Since then, it’s had 14,000 downloads in three months.

PeopleNet: Has grown to become one of the largest transportation technology companies in the U.S. PeopleNet is a key contributor to its parent company Trimble’s Transportation segment, which reported revenues of around $560M, an eight percent increase from 2015. Since 2014, the company’s team has tripled to include more than 650 people.

Vugo: After winning the Minnesota Cup’s high tech division in 2016, Vugo pivoted its core business and is close to closing $1 million through crowdfunding.

Inkit: Founded earlier this year, Inkit recently landed a partnership with Leadpages subsidiary Drip. One of the company’s two founders was an early engineer at Leadpages.

ID Insight: Helps banks prevent fraud using predictive scoring algorithms to analyze customer identity and profile changes. ID Insight experienced growth this year after focusing its software on specific industry problems.

Upsie: One of two local startups to participate in this year’s Target + Techstars retail accelerator. Recently launched a new service called Upsie Pays, a subscription-based service that protects all of a customer’s devices. Upsie says that it has protected more than $3.5M worth of devices to date.


Chanl Health: Provides cardiovascular disease patients with a “companion app” after they get out of the hospital to simplify their care plan. In 2017, Chanl built out its product and completed a round of seed funding.

Bright Health: Health insurance startup Bright Health closed on $160 million in venture capital this summer, the largest round in Minnesota history.

Dr. Elizabeth Klodas: Cardiologist Dr. Elizabeth Klodas was invted to present her startup, Step One Foods, at Google Demo Day this summer. Step One was one of 13 companies across North America selected to showcase their technology to investors and mentors.

Miromatrix: Creating transplantable human organs from pig organs with the goal of eliminating the transplant waiting list. The company will perform its first major liver trial later in the year. It recently raised $1.7 million, and is seeking to raise up to $12 million.

NxThera: One of Minnesota’s biggest investment deals in the first quarter of this year, raising $15.3 million.

RoverMed: The company was started late last year, and officially spun out of its parent company in January 2017. RoverMed has raised more than $1 million, and has secured four large pharmaceutical partnerships.

StemoniX: Since winning the Minnesota Cup’s grand prize last year, StemoniX has landed $2.5 million in seed funding and moved into its first headquarters and manufacturing facility in Maple Grove. The company has also cemented partnerships with Pairnomix and the U.S. Military.

HabitAware: Launched a habit-tracking bracelet called Keen that helps those struggling with skin picking, nail biting and hair pulling. Co-founder Aneela Idnani has also become an outspoken advocate for mental health in startups.


COCO: This year the Twin Cities’ hometown co-working company opened a 15,000 square-foot expansion of their downtown Minneapolis location in the Grain Exchange. COCO is in its eigth year of growth, according to the company.

GoKart Labs: Successfully launched a second office in Washington D.C., and hired 12 new employees, including its first CFO. GoKart also added a Venture department that allocates $1M in services to startups.

Tom Motzel: Motzel is the creator of The Great Minnesota Tech 2Gether (TGMNT2), which is gearing up for its first student-focused event this spring.

Bill Owens: In addition to leading the Owatonna Area Business Development Center (ABDC), Owens has mentored MN Cup Semifinalists and connected entrepreneurs to resources in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. Owatonna ABDC offers low-cost work space, mentoring and assistance to local startups.

Jenna Pederson: A co-founder of Hack the Gap, the Twin Cities’ first hackathon for female builders. Pederson is also the founder of 612 Software Foundry, and a Minnestar board member.

Danielle Steer: During her time as manager of Impact Hub MSP, Steer has started three communities of practice for startups and supporters: impact investing, impact reporting and the community and consultant brown bag meeting. Steer has also led the social venture track for Twin Cities Startup Week for the last two years, which grew this year to include hundreds of participants and several sold out events.

NerdKind: An expansion of The Nerdery’s Overnight Website challenge, which has provided more than $7 million in free services to around 200 nonprofits since the challenge’s initial launch. NerdKind debuted at Startup Week and is pairing local “nerds” with nonprofits that need their services.

Scott Burns: An investor and innovator with Osborn370. Burns is an outspoken advocate for St. Paul’s startup scene, and is part of the city’s Full Stack St. Paul initiative. After selling his company GovDelivery in 2016, Burns launched Structural.

48in48: Doubled to four events this year, engaging 700 technology professionals as volunteers.

Tech Dump: In the past year, Tech Dump created Tech Discounts, a series of retail stores selling refurbished electronics and providing repair. It is also the number three e-waste collector in the state by volume, and has diverted more than five million pounds of toxic waste from the waste stream.


Twisted Shrub: One year after launch, Twisted Shrub is being distributed at more than 40 local liquor stores and co-ops. The startup also launched nationally on Amazon, and expanded into its own production facility.

Bizzy Coffee: Started distributing its cold-brew coffee on Amazon this year, and is available in more than 500 stores nationwide.

Land O’Lakes: Began a dairy accelerator with five small companies, and created an R&D innovation team. Land O’Lakes also acquired Philia Foods after its Techstars run.

Kim Bartmann: A triple-bottom-line restauranteur focusing on people, planet and profits. Bartmann has introduced permaculture and LEED certified spaces to the urban restaurant landscape and is involved in more than 10 restaurants around the Twin Cities.

Lauren Pradhan: Has expanded local food org Grow North, hosting 20 events that reached more than 3,000 people in the last year. Pradhan assists with leading the food and agriculture track during Twin Cities Startup week and works with more than a half-dozen local nonprofits in and out of the food sphere.

Living Greens: This indoor farming company has expanded its three-year-old facility in Faribault from 5,000 to 45,000 square feet. Predicts $4.5 million in profits next year.

Local Crate: One of two local startups to participate in this year’s Target + Techstars program. Developed a meal kit for retail stores that Target has started selling in its stores, and has plans to bring the kits to 150 co-ops.

Second Harvest Heartland: Began piloting the FOODRx initiative, which connects low-income patients with food to combat specific health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.


Shannon Watson: Founder of Definitely Someday, an organization that helps everyday citizens prepare to run for public office. Unlike other political strategists, Definitely Someday works with clients two to 10 years in advance to build their civic and political brand.

Minnesota Firefighter Initiative: Launched this year to unify and spark conversations among firefighters, their families, communities and state policymakers regarding firefighter health, specifically cancer, heart disease and mental health.

Thinking Moves: Expanded its MeMoves multimedia program for self-calming and healing. Now used in more than 5,000 school districts in the U.S. and Canada, including St. Paul Public Schools.

GogyUp: Working with local organizations to improve adult literacy and help resolve the talent crisis faced by local employers. GogyUp was a semifinalist in the Impact Ventures division of this year’s Minnesota CUp, and received a $5,000 innovation award from AARP.


Caroline Karanja: A developer, consultant and business owner growing diversity and inclusion practices at the Twin Cities. Karanja is a co-founder of 26 Letters, a SaaS solution that helps businesses grow their diversity. Karanja pitched the business at Minnedemo during Twin Cities Startup week.

75F: Creating IoT sensors for smart building management that can help facilities save 30 to 50 percent of energy.

Hydra-Flex: Over this last year, Hydra-Flex has grown by 48 percent and moved their headquarters to a new location that is 2.5 times larger than their last, providing more room for future growth and expansion. The company creates sustainable products that save natural resources.

TackleBar Football: A safer approach to football that reduces the risk of concussions and other injuries associated with tackling. More than 2,000 people use TackleBar in leagues across Minnesota and the country. The startup recently announced a new partnership with the Minnesota Vikings.

Bharat Pulgam: The CEO of mXers, a company he started as a high school sophomore. Now a student at the University of Minnesota, Pulgam continues to build mXers, which recently won the Beta.MN Showcase during Twin Cities Startup Week.

MPLS Junior Devs: A monthly meetup for less-experienced developers in the area that provides mentorship and community for developers entering the workforce. Long term, the organization hopes to create and draw more tech talent to Minnesota.

Ra’essa Motala: Helping grow Minnesota’s tech community through her work as a broker at Lee & Associates, and through her involvement with local organizations like Girls Who Code and Technovation[MN]. This year, Motala collaborated with the documentary team of “She Started It” to bring the award-winning film to the Twin Cities Film festival to show young girls the possibilities of a career in tech and startups.