Thursday, May 24, 2012

Minneapolis-St. Paul Ranked 26 on List of Best Cities for Tech Jobs

A recent article published in New Geography ranked the 51 largest metropolitan regions in the U.S. on their current concentration of and potential growth for “tech-related” jobs. Using a complex methodology that incorporated data on technology industries such as software, data processing, and Internet publishing, as well as more traditional “STEM”-related occupations, the author (with assistance from a researcher with Praxis Strategy Group) placed the Minneapolis-St. Paul area precisely in the middle of his list.
The list produced some interesting outcomes. While one would assume the Silicon Valley area would top the list, it actually ranked seventh. The reasons for this result were varied. First, the article assessed growth not only during booms but during recessions. For example, while in 2000 there would have been no question as to the superiority of Silicon Valley for tech jobs, at the end of 2011 the region had 170,000 fewer tech jobs than it did in 2000.
The author’s methodology also accounted for steadiness and diversity of the growth, noting that places like the Valley can be dominated by trends, which are not always conducive to strong employment statistics. Two of their top five ranked locations, the Washington D.C. area and the Baltimore area, have broader and more stabilized tech communities that include computer systems design and private sector R&D. Other areas with more diversification in tech jobs, such as in biotechnology and publishing, were ranked fairly high despite having less growth in traditional STEM areas.
More general characteristics also impacted a community’s ranking. Lower taxes, less regulation, valuable natural resources, low housing prices, and a highly-educated workforce contribute to the growth of tech-related employment in many areas. These characteristics are another reason Silicon Valley may not rank as highly as it otherwise might; high taxes and housing costs in the area can deter start-ups, at least until they reach a certain level of success.
Topping the list was the Seattle-Tacoma region, which has experienced not only constant growth over the past decade but steady growth even in poor economic climates. Lower costs of living than other West Coast regions also contributed to Seattle’s ranking. Surprising areas losing ground (and ranking lower than Minneapolis-St. Paul) included Chicago, L.A., and even New York. Areas within two points of Minneapolis included Denver, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Providence, Miami, Buffalo, NY, and Richmond, VA.
We certainly hope Minneapolis continues to move up this list!

A Post by Karen Wenzel, Guest Blogger

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Remembering No. 24

On May 10, 2012, Gunnar Sønsteby, one of the most decorated heroes of all time, passed from this life. His legacy warrants a mention, albeit insufficient for the heroism, service, and sacrifice that he provided to his country, to the Allies, and perhaps to civilization as we know it during World War II. 

If you profile the people that you have met in your life, few of them, if any, will have earned or deserved the description of “great.” When asked to speak about his activities during Norway’s struggle for freedom during World War II, Gunnar Sønsteby humbly preferred to discuss the valor of others and their sacrifice rather than his own. 

In 2010, I had the opportunity of a lifetime not only to hear Sønsteby speak several times, but also to have a conversation with both Gunnar and his wife, Anne-Karin, after the showing of the film “Max Manus.” (Watch this film: it recounts the war-time life of Max Manus, a fellow resistance fighter. In true form, Sønsteby, as a consultant to the film, continually downplayed his own role in the story and instead insisted that the film focus on Max Manus and his league of resistance fighters.) When given the opportunity to discuss his role in the resistance, he deflected attention from himself toward King Haakon VII of Norway. Sønsteby also took great pains to speak about the importance of human rights and the plight of those oppressed all over the world. 

No. 24, as he became to be known by his Nazi pursuers, was the principal mastermind and operations chief of the Norwegian resistance. For almost five years, Gunnar and his band of resistance fighters thwarted Nazi invaders, preventing advances that could have easily changed the outcome of World War II. The Germans called him “No. 24” because they couldn’t even determine who he was, yet he was the most wanted man in Norway due to his mastery of planning and precise acts of sabotage, which repeatedly crippled the Reich’s plans against the most harrowing odds. 

Gunnar Sønsteby’s efforts started modestly, as the Germans overran Norway and stationed significant military operations within Norway’s borders. Gunnar Sønsteby has been quoted to the effect that “when your country is taken over by 100,000 Germans, you get angry.” Sønsteby and some of his acquaintances, who would later become the core of the Norwegian Resistance Movement, initially created an underground newspaper to countermand the finely tuned Nazi propaganda machine.

Admittedly, Sønsteby and his band did not have instant success and many of their fellow freedom fighters were killed, as well as scores of innocent Norwegians. In time, under nearly unbelievable circumstances, Sønsteby and his crew would enter and exit Norway to Scotland and Sweden for training, supplies, and interaction with the Norwegian government, operating via proxy from hundreds of miles away. Their growing success turned to strategic raids that would ultimately help turn the tide of the entire war.
Among the reasons for Germany’s invasion of Norway was its strategic location for naval channels, a northern border with Russia, and access to heavy water, a rare element necessary for the creation of a hydrogen bomb. The “race for the bomb” was repeatedly set back by Norwegian resistance fighters through their destruction of ships, trains, and other German military operations, often at the expense of Norway’s own roads, bridges, and people.

Another “commodity” available to the Germans was the existence of tens of thousands of young Norwegian men, whose identities were all catalogued in the Norwegian Labor Office. The Germans intended on drafting all Norwegian men of fighting age, to be shipped to the Eastern Front to fight the Russians. (The Norwegians had proven extremely effective in fighting the Russians for years alongside Finnish infantry on the Northern front of Finland in the 1930s). Upon learning that the fate of an entire generation of Norwegians was at stake, Sønsteby organized the raid and bombing of the Norwegian Labor Office, putting an end to the Nazi’s ability to forcibly draft Norwegians. This blow resulted in a huge distraction to the Reich that ultimately kept the Germans in a true two-front war, forcing them to allocate resources to the failed Eastern Front, thereby turning the tide of the war towards the Allies.

Among Sønsteby’s other credits are the theft of 75,000 ration books, which pressured authorities to stop a threatened cut in rations; the destruction of sulphuric acid manufacturing facilities in Lysaker; and the destruction or damaging of more than 40 aircraft under repair at a tram company depot in Korsvoll. He was also credited with the destruction of a railway locomotive under repair at Skabo, a number of Bofors guns, and a field gun and vital machine tools at the Kongsberg arms factory, and with starting a large fire in a storage depot at Oslo harbor, which destroyed large quantities of critical German supplies for its navy. Each raid ultimately meant the loss of Norwegian lives, either in the raids themselves or in retaliation killings, a tactic the Germans used (unsuccessfully) to threaten Norwegians into compliance with their regime.

After the war, Sønsteby transitioned from a military to a civilian life, attending Harvard and ultimately returning to Norway to a successful career in the oil and gas business. Sønsteby never stopped speaking about the Norwegian resistance, King Haakon VII, or human rights. Being the worthy recipient of many accolades, both civilian and military, Sønsteby is the only Norwegian to receive the War Cross with three swords. Also, Sønsteby was the first non-United States citizen to receive the United States Special Operations Command Medal in 2008.

Having numerous brushes with capture and even death, Sønsteby, even at the age of 94, would be cautious walking into a room, even inspecting behind the doors of unfamiliar places. I remember Sønsteby commenting that “old habits die hard.” Perhaps the most fitting description of Sønsteby came from a close friend of his who stated that “Gunnar is a man with no conflict.” Sønsteby, intimately aware of the immense cost of freedom, was at peace with that cost and lived the rest of his life demonstrating by example why the cost of liberty was necessary and just. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Top Ten Rookie Mistakes

The New York Times blog You’re The Boss recently ran an article, “The Top Ten Rookie Mistakes for Entrepreneurs,” that had some great tips. I typically like to bring in information from a number of sources, but I thought this particular article was worth sharing in detail. The top ten rookie mistakes are as follows:
1. Assuming the lower the rent, the better. Keeping costs as low as possible is not always the best way to run a successful business, especially when you have no reputation or good will to otherwise bank on. Sometimes the company’s image, or exposure to customers, is worth paying a little more for.
2. Hiring someone you know really well, instead of hiring someone competent. I think many new business owners make this mistake. Working with someone you know and trust can not only be helpful in the beginning, it can also be fun. The problem comes in when this person does not otherwise possess the skills for the job. In the long run, hiring a competent person that you will grow to trust and like is a far better investment than trying to figure out how to fire your best friend or your sister-in-law.
3. Buying all used equipment. Sometimes buying lower cost equipment can help on the start-up costs, but spending time and money repairing equipment or dealing with unexpected equipment failures can cost you customers and money down the road.
4. Underpricing services or products to attract new business. It can be tempting to underprice the competition or price your services at a level that will attract immediate new business. The problem with this cycle is that it ignores the continued costs required to keep the business afloat. Pricing things too low, and attracting customers who now demand prices that low, starts a bad cycle that is difficult to escape.
5. Cutting corners on professional advice. This is my personal favorite, in a very self-serving way. I do think good professional advice is incredibly important—it’s what I do. But beyond good legal services, it is also very important to have tax advice, financial advice, and business and marketing advice from competent professionals who can anticipate any issues and steer the early stage business in the right direction. Nothing kills a start-up faster than a copyright lawsuit, an employee work-related accident, or an IRS audit, if the entrepreneur doesn’t plan with the right advisors from the beginning. Entrepreneurs are often incredibly hands-on, and accustomed to doing everything themselves, but professional advisors play a very important role in ensuring the viability of the early part of the business.
6. Being so debt-adverse at the expense of doing things right. Sometimes borrowing money is necessary to put the right things in place. It can be a good thing to resist borrowing more money than the business can handle, but sometimes debt is necessary to get things moving. It sometimes takes money to make money.
7. Selecting a bank because of a long-term personal relationship. Sometimes using your personal bank for a business loan can be a great thing, and sometimes it is like hiring your best friend—it can be in place of competence. Some banks are more experienced than others at lending to small businesses. Ask other professional advisors, such as your accountant and your lawyer; they should be able to help select the right lender.
8. Assuming you can create and track the success of your advertising. This is another area that is important to leave to professionals. Advertising can be a substantial cost, and may not be necessary or a large component of your start-up, but if you are going to use advertising it is only helpful if you can track its success.
9. Treating employees fairly—so fairly that you suffer through a bad fit for months. Similar to the mistake described above, sometimes you hire people you like and trust and not necessarily the most competent and the right fit for your company. It is important to treat people fairly, but not so fairly that you let them flounder, and your company suffer, for months and months. Sometimes it was a bad hiring decision, a bad fit, and you should recognize that for what it is.
10. Falling blindly in love with your product or service. This is all too common of entrepreneurs. It is critical that you have a passion for whatever you are putting your heart and soul in to, this new company. However, not so in love that you ignore the hundreds of reasons this new company is a bad boyfriend. Sometimes the product or service is a bad boyfriend: it steals your money, takes all your time, is abusive, bad for your health, and will likely never be rehabilitated. If you are blindly in love, you won’t recognize the bad boyfriend until it is too late.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Lonely Road

Each year that my wife and I taught Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas our last class was about the ten things I wish I knew when I was 20. One of those always included my wife talking about one of her favorite poems by Robert Frost called "The Road Not Taken." She would talk about her regrets and thoughts about what her life would have been like if she had not taken the path to entrepreneurship and, instead, had stayed on the big corporate road that many of her friends had taken. As I have gone from my youth to middle age (and even a little beyond), I have looked back on my own life with some regrets but also with the notion that I have learned so much that I wouldn’t have had I not taken risks.
I have previously written about how I have failed my way to success and the difficult paths an entrepreneur must take. But I have not yet written about why I admire entrepreneurs more than any business people I know.
The life of an entrepreneur is fraught with stress, setbacks, and, if they are lucky, elation. Unfortunately, we only glorify the success stories—the winners. I find the failures as compelling and clap my hands at their efforts sometimes more than I do the “winners.”
The entrepreneur first must find an idea that is original, compelling, and protectable. This is not easy and very few do this successfully. They are told constantly that “it is too hard,” “anyone can develop that,” “Microsoft, Medtronic, Google are or will be doing that.” They have to find people who share their vision and who are willing to bet financially and emotionally that they are right. Finally, they must convince investors, many of whom have never started or even operated a company, to invest in their idea.
Once they have all these things, they then have to build their product or service and find customers for it. My wife calls the first nine months after release of a software product “the nine months of hell.” I believe this is very appropriate. Everything that can go wrong often does, but it allows the business model to evolve (or Pivot as VCs now like to say). During this time entrepreneurs are judged as “idiots” or “geniuses.” My experience over thirty years is that the best people with the best ideas don’t always succeed if the timing is not right. I call it luck where smarter people call it market timing.
If everything goes right, some day, like Mark Zukerberg of Facebook, they will get to bask in the glory that goes to the winners. However, more often than not, they will fail and feel shame and embarrassment that they failed. Often, they feel like they have failed not only themselves but also their employees and friends.
To me they should feel no shame. The shame should be on the rest of us, who watch them and either clap for their victories or boo their defeats. The entrepreneur is the bravest person I know. They take the lonely road but in my mind the best. As President Theodore Roosevelt said in his famous “Man in the Arena” speech in 1910…
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

A Post by Frank Vargas, Guest Blogger

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What to Read?

Two recent publications are worth adding to your home or office library.

I Am A Pole (And So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert, is now available at your local book store or on This is the tale of a flagpole searching for his purpose in life. The much-acclaimed writer of children’s books, Maurice Sendak, who sadly passed away this week, had already given it high praise: “Terribly, supremely ordinary” and “Sad thing is, I like it!”

Also just released is A Legal Guide to Technology Transactions, a new book offering guidance on how to identify and minimize risks through technology contracts and license agreements. The Legal Guide is a collaborative effort of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (“DEED”) and Gray Plant Mooty. I am the principal author.

What book to read and for what purpose?

The story about the Pole is a quick read, unless either you ponder each illustration or uncontrollable laughter ensues.

The Legal Guide is 65 pages of succinct prose with compelling admonitions like, “Don’t treat the contract as an afterthought!” Not “laugh out loud” funny, but you might get some pleasure from learning how to speak with your lawyer about disaster recovery, progressive payment schedules, intellectual property rights, privacy, open source, indemnification, remedies, limitations of liability, and  security in the cloud. Pretty compelling stuff. Take your time and read it at your own pace. There are no illustrations.

Retail price for the Pole is $15.99, with an audio version read by Tom Hanks available for download from The audio CD will be released in a few weeks. All profits are going to charity.

The Legal Guide is free and available in hard copy or CD from DEED or Gray Plant Mooty. It is also available online at No audio version is planned at this time.

A free workshop on the topics covered in the Legal Guide is planned for Friday, June 22. For more information on the workshop please call (612) 632-3345 or email

I Am A Pole (And So Can You!) or A Legal Guide to Technology Transactions—Which to read? How to Choose?

Get both.

First, have a good laugh with the Pole and then read the Legal Guide. You will have a smile on your face knowing that your computer systems can meet your needs and requirements, and, if not, that you have the appropriate legal remedies at your disposal.

Full disclosure: Aaron Cohen, who produced the Pole with Stephen Colbert, is my son, of whom I am unabashedly proud. Also, while it may appear as one of the highest selling children books on Amazon, the Pole does pay homage to a stripper pole in his quest to find purpose in life.  You may want to read the book yourself before you let little Johnny or Sue turn the pages.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

State of Fear

The Book: State of Fear, by Michael Crichton (Harper, 2009).
Why You Should Care: If you can get past the clunky story line and political posturing, there are some interesting observations on society, mass psychology, and what drives demand for some goods and services.
Regular readers of my contributions to this blog (and I am assuming there are at least some such readers, though I suspect many of them are probably close relatives), if they have been paying attention at all, will know that my reading habits tend heavily toward non-fiction. Things that really happened, and people who really exist or have existed, are just more interesting to me than fictional characters. My apologies to my children and others of their generation, whose early years were shaped by stories of an imaginary wizardry school and its denizens.
Occasionally, though, I feel the need to take a breather, which typically means something by Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Colin Dexter, or even Charles Dickens (if I am in an appropriately Victorian frame of mind). That said, I’ve been known to indulge from time to time in a technology/science-fiction thriller from the pen or word processor of the late Michael Crichton. For my money (well, the truth be told, I usually take the books out of the library), Crichton usually can put together a pretty good page-turner.
Usually, but not always. His stories about DNA-engineered dinosaurs, deadly extraterrestrial microorganisms, and time travel really rocked, but he gets a little preachy in State of Fear, which centers on global warming and extremist environmental groups. His premise is that environmental groups, to justify their own existence and to prey on the generally held belief that global warming is a real and dangerous phenomenon, conspire to trigger real catastrophes. This is interesting enough, but Crichton delivers the story with loads of factual references, charts, and footnotes. It’s better than reading a public offering prospectus, but still…
Anyway, you need not take a position on global warming to find Crichton’s sociological observations interesting and, yes, potentially useful to entrepreneurs. Maybe the title gives you a clue. If not, Crichton’s central idea is that the most efficient method of social control is to keep everyone in a constant state of fear.
The Cold War is over, or at least it doesn’t continue in the form that many of us grew up with in the middle decades of the last century, so something has to fill the vacuum. A corollary to this is that, in all things, perception is key. Many products exist only to lessen our anxiety about perceived threats that, in reality, are not very likely to occur.
Now, where is that African killer bee spray? I must have left it in my backyard bomb shelter.