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Three Minnesota entrepreneurs share their stories

STartups tend to grab attention when they reach a major inflection point: product launch, closing a funding round, IPO. The real story happens in between: long hours, failed fundraising attempts, learning to delegate, big opportunities, all of which lead to bigger questions about scaling, staffing and financing.

With the “Founder’s Diary”, we are creating a place to talk about the in-between, all the moments, both disappointing and exhilarating, that are fundamental to entrepreneurship. We spotlight three founders at different times on the path to building a sustainable business. They agreed to draw the curtain and take us on a ride for the coming year. One of them is just getting started and is looking for ways to finance the software platform it is developing. Another is gaining ground with a consulting firm and needs staff. A third is preparing to market its food product nationally and plans to scale all aspects of the business, from marketing to manufacturing, which means fundraising. Whatever happens, it’s definitely going to be an interesting year.


Way forward

Qiana Hicks

Build a digital platform to connect at-risk youth with advice and career development opportunities.

The odds were against Qiana Hicks. Her parents struggled with addiction, leaving her to help raise her siblings and her own child when she was 15. Determined to change the narrative, she enrolled in college and earned an MBA. She built a career in IT management, working for large companies such as Wells Fargo and Boeing. She wrote a book about her experiences and how she overcame them, titled Life in its rawest form. But the call to help others continued to grow. She began to think of ways to combine her technological expertise with her desire to help children overcome difficult circumstances.

“I couldn’t suppress the idea of ​​innovating something to help make a
greater impact.

—Qiana Hicks, Founder, Pathway Forward

The idea evolved into Pathway Forward, an app and software platform to connect at-risk youth with opportunity. In August, she quit her job at the company to work full-time at the startup. “I couldn’t put down the idea of ​​innovating something to help have a bigger impact for our youth and our communities anymore,” says Hicks.

Development is underway on Pathway Forward software, which Hicks says will offer college and career readiness services, including guides, tools, support and connections. “I know what it’s like to feel like there’s no way out,” Hicks says. “But a degree can change your life. I am living proof. Hicks envisions the software used by schools and companies looking to hire or provide training. With over 20 years of IT experience, Hicks has the expertise to supervise the coders she’s hired and even do some hands-on labs herself.

She saved for this start-up phase, but even so, she admits, it was more difficult than expected. Among some of her “costly mistakes” she cites investing too early in UI/UX design prototypes. “It was too premature. Hopefully I can eventually leverage some of these concepts.

She tried a Kickstarter but didn’t reach her goal. Now she is seeking grants to complete her prototype.

Obstacles only make her more determined. “It’s a lot for one person to do, but I can do it faster and better than anyone else because of my lived experiences. That’s my calling.

2022 objectives:

  • Raise $150,000 to complete app development and another $60,000 for operational costs
  • Establish founding sponsors and corporate partners

Mossier

Nick AlmNick Alm

Moving from a non-profit council to a for-profit council that works with businesses on recruitment and LGBTQ equity.

Nick Alm, one of the only openly gay students at Stillwater High School, expected the university to feel more welcoming to LGBTQ people. When he started college in 2016, however, it didn’t quite live up to his expectations. “It wasn’t overtly discriminatory, but there was an unconscious tone that said, ‘Leave it at the door. You will be more successful if you adapt to a heteronormative role.

“I roll the dice a lot of the time. But I have to invest in people if we want to grow.

—Nick Alm, Mossier

Instead, Alm, who identifies as non-binary and uses his pronouns, organized a group of LGBTQ students at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Business and convened a roundtable to speak to the world about LGBTQ issues business. Consultation requests followed. Just a sophomore at the time, Alm sought advice from longtime gay activist Charlie Rounds, who was president of RSVP Travel, a pioneering LGBTQ travel company started by Kevin Mossier in 1985. Rounds also managed the Mossier Foundation, distributing grants to LGBTQ entrepreneurs. Alm learned the ropes through Rounds, while hosting LGBTQ job fairs and starting consulting with companies. When the time came to hand over the final grant from the Mossier Foundation, it was entrusted to Alm to create the next chapter of the organization. They kicked off 2022 by growing Mossier from a nonprofit to a social enterprise LLC with a focus on providing LGBTQ equity training to businesses, as well as workshops and a job platform.

Alm can already point to more than $260,000 in annual revenue for Mossier and expects to work with around 40 companies in 2022. In the near future, Alm wants to create a franchise model for Mossier and take the consultancy into “the the most hostile environments—places where people haven’t had these conversations about intersectionality and relationship building. Now Alm is sorting out personnel and programming. “The plan is still in my head.”

2022 objectives:

  • Developing Mossier staff
  • Walk away from some day-to-day operations Identify investors and other backers

Maaza

Yasameen Sajady Yasameen Sajady

Scaling up a line of Afghan-style chutney sauces on their way to becoming a mainstream condiment in grocery stores nationwide.

In early February, Yasameen Sajady visited the Fancy Food Show in Las Vegas. Her mentors told her it would be a good idea to get a feel for the national scene a year before stepping in, and she fully anticipates that Maazah, a line of Afghan-style chutney sauces made in Minneapolis, will have a stand. in influential industry. show in 2023. But first: It raises its first round of growth capital and prepares for a nationwide rollout to 2,000 Kroger stores.

Like many independent food brands, Maazah started in Sajady’s kitchen, inspired by the food she grew up eating at home in the Twin Cities, but couldn’t find on local store shelves. “I come from a very food-centric family,” Sajady says. “Our gatherings begin with which aunt brings the rice.” Seven years ago, she said her mother’s chutney was good enough to bottle. So she did and started selling at a local farmers market. It was a weekend hustle with her mother and sisters that became a full-time job when Maazah was taken over by cooperatives and then by larger grocers. She quit her job as a social enterprise manager for Pillsbury United Communities in 2018 and joined Lunar Startups, a St. Paul-based accelerator, which gave her money, mentorship and space. In 2021, she completed two more accelerators: Good Food Accelerator in Chicago and ImpactSKU, a consumer goods-specific program, created by Minneapolis-based Finnovation Lab in partnership with Austin-based SKU.

Industry connections are especially helpful now, as Sajady nears a $500,000 seed round, led by investment firms Twin Cities Groove Capital and Tundra. The capital will help Maazah ramp up manufacturing and marketing as it expands from 100 to 700 stores this year.

2022 objectives:

  • Increase manufacturing capacity
  • Create regional marketing efforts to ensure successful launches in other parts of the country
  • Staff salaries

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