Innovate ND Showcase: Startups Across North Dakota

Innovation Day 2020

The recurring theme from Innovation Day 2020 was the creation of a better future. In order to create this future, The Nice Center at NDSU poses open-ended questions that stoke our imaginations, like, “What if…?” and “How might we…?” We then encourage students and community members to create roadmaps that share the answers they uncover along the way. Some of these roadmaps were shared at Innovation Day 2020 through the Innovate ND Showcase. 

CECE MORKEN, CEO of HEADSPACE

To open up this segment of the day, we heard from CeCe Morken, CEO of Headspace. Headspace is innovating in the mental health space by improving wellness through meditation and mindfulness support. She described entrepreneurship as a scientific endeavor, explaining that one must find an unsolved problem and hypothesize how they might solve it. For her, this was mental health and mindfulness.

Morken believes that innovators can come from absolutely anywhere and that opportunity is more abundant than ever before. Her outlook provided a perfect segue for budding entrepreneurs who are recipients of grant funding and business development support through North Dakota’s Innovate ND program

Innovate ND: Team One

KRISTIN BRAUN, CO-FOUNDER of EDGE FOUR

The first Innovate ND team to share was Edge Four, a tool for athletic coaches to find recruits that fit their programs. Their motto is: “Knowing an athlete is one thing, but knowing their ‘why’ is everything.” Kristin Braun, the co-founder of Edge Four, explained the ups and downs the company had experienced since its inception.

Our journey has been a tough one, I think that probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned in entrepreneurship is to just not give up. Trust the process, continue to move forward.

Braun has lived in four states and has had two kids since launching the company. But, with an athlete’s mindset, Braun knows that E4’s efforts will eventually pay off with consistent hard work. In addition to her story, Braun said that North Dakota has presented her with the best entrepreneurial ecosystem that she could have hoped for. She hadn’t imagined that she’d be saying that when she originally moved to the state for her husband’s job. 

KEVIN BLACK, PRESIDENT of CREEDENCE ENERGY SERVICES

The oil industry is the biggest sector of the North Dakota economy. With over 7% of annual GDP coming from oil, ideas to increase or improve output are always welcome. Cue Kevin Black, president of Creedence Energy Services. His company optimizes oil wells in the Bakken region of North Dakota. 

We are like the doctors and pharmacists of the oil and gas industry.

Every extra percentage point more oil that can be extracted from the rock is a big deal, Black said.

He also shared an inspiring story of struggling early in his academic career in chemistry and how he almost dropped out of engineering altogether. Through his persistence, however, he was able to get through those tough times and now owns a company that is on the cutting edge of oil chemistry. In addition to training him in the hard skills through an engineering degree, Black said that student government and other extracurricular activities at NDSU gave him the social skills necessary to succeed in an entrepreneurial environment. 

Innovate ND: Team Two

MATT CHAUSSEE, CEO of BE MORE COLORFUL

What if you could see how a job is done before you apply for it? And what if you could virtually tour an industry before committing to studying it in college? Next up was Matt Chaussee, CEO of Be More Colorful. Be More Colorful supports communities and organizations by providing experiences in job shadowing in different areas and careers that aren’t easily accessible to the communities they serve. He explained the philosophy of their company is to understand the actual problems that exist. 

The net result of what we seek to do is help people make more informed decisions about where they live, work, and play.

Matt explained that he doesn’t need a lot of people for a successful startup: “We are a small crew… we call ourselves the husband and wife VR shop.”

He said the Innovate ND network helped his company immensely and the connections made have allowed big projects to come his way. He shared how Innovate ND helped him explore his potential customer’s ideas instead of impulsively acting on his own: “Originally, we were going to be sending out several dozen virtual reality headsets all around the states.”

Through Innovate ND, they conducted interviews that helped them validate some assumptions and find out that others were off base. They ended up not sending all of the headsets and instead started a new program called Career View XR, which can be installed on any digital platform.

Innovate ND: Team Three

JOEY SCHMIT, iSIGHT DRONE SERVICES

Joey Schmit was next up. He is the Fargo site manager for iSight Drone Services where they do deliveries, examinations, and imaging of industrial areas, especially roads, using drones. 

Innovate ND helped me completely build my business until I was acquired…we now have offices in Grand Forks, Fargo, and Watford City.

Schmit explained that his company flew and examined ND roads in the Bakken to see if they were suitable to be driven on immediately after rain events, saving oil companies a lot of money by preventing oil trucks from being deployed on undrivable roads. This is an example of an innovator truly shaping a whole industry. 

A BETTER FUTURE

The entrepreneurs from Innovate ND shared stories of innovation happening in real time. Through their ups and downs, they have managed to make something that can help people. Helping coaches find good student-athletes, creating virtual reality experiences to help with career-finding, and surveying roads with drone technology are all very different innovations, but, they stem from the innovative spirit that The Nice Center tries to inspire through its programs and support. 

If you want to experience the rest of Innovation Day, check out the Innovation Challenge and the Nice Idea Showcase. And if you’re a business that would like to participate in the Innovate ND program, learn more here

Posted on December 2nd, 2020 by Zach Johnson in News and Stories