FINNOVATION Lab’s first cohort
Over a year ago, Jacquie Berglund, founder of FINNEGANS Brew Co in Minneapolis, opened up a 13,000-square foot building called FINNEGANS House with space for not only offices and a brewery, but also for mission-driven nonprofits and for-profits at various stages of development.
Since then, FINNovation Lab, as the social entrepreneurship acceleration and community-building effort is named, graduated the first cohort of its nine-month FINNOVATION Fellowship, started its second and formed partnerships with two national groups with accelerators and boot camps for founders.
Plus, Berglund, whose company plows 100% of profits into a fund that finances food banks in every state the business sells its beer, is on track to hit $2 million in donated profits by next year.
FINNovation Lab’s flagship fellowship, a September-to-June program that awards $50,000 in grants to founders, focuses on early stage companies. That includes anything from, “I have a great idea to someone who has been working on something for two years, but hasn’t found the right product-market fit,” says Connie Rutledge, CEO of FINNOVATION Lab. They also get a health insurance stipend, free co-working space, a tailored curriculum and one-on-one mentorship.
The curriculum has what Rutledge calls “pillars” focused on such areas as leadership development, business planning and the cause and context of the social problem being addressed. The emphasis is on constant testing and experimentation. “This is about not being afraid to try something, instead of spending nine months writing a business plan,” she says.
The first cohort of five included such enterprises as TUSA, a fintech venture focused on improving educational outcomes of socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and PERK: The Natural Beauty Lab, which aims to sell sustainable, upcycled skincare products. This year’s group has nine founders.
Michelle Tran Maryns, founder and CEO of We Sparkle, was a member of the first fellowship cohort. Her enterprise has a smart chat bot that targets small businesses and solopreneurs, especially companies in “appointment” industries like beauty salons that are owned by women of color. It helps automate marketing efforts, improve communication with clients and increase the efficiency of operations.
Specifically, the technology allows business owners to text with customers about such time-consuming, every day matters as scheduling or rescheduling appointments. “People in hair salons have to answer the same questions over and over,” she says. Plus, they can also do some upselling of services while they’re at it.
SEED SPOT and SKU
FINNovation Lab also recently introduced two-day “launch camps” through a partnership with SEED SPOT a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that also runs an accelerator and meet-ups. An intensive 48-hour program for very early-stage founders, it offers what Rutledge calls “an early-stage kick the tire experience.” She plans to hold two more in 2020.
Then, in June, the plan is to bring SKU, an accelerator program for consumer products, to Minneapolis, but adding an impact lens. That will be open to five-to-seven enterprises that already have revenues and have figured out their supply chain and other essentials. Entrepreneurs will receive a stipend and FINNovation will get “a little bit of equity”, though the specifics still need to be ironed out.
Berglund started her company about 20 years ago with the goal of donating profits into its community fund. That money finances a partnership with food banks, which use the funds to buy produce from local growers.