What makes a city smart? We can learn from NYC and others

ComputerWorld has a series on Smart Cities. They check out what’s happening in big cities and how they are using technology to make life better. Their changes are definitely different than rural Minnesota but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something we can learn here. This latest video looks at swapping out phone booths for charging WiFI stations. Something that’s probably worth considering if your rural town wants to attract tourists.

The beauty of the new charging stations is that it tracks use and presence of smartphones. It could be a great way to measure usage and visitors. The NYC stations are paid for with advertising. I’ve hearing about rural Minnesota cities using advertising or sponsorship to pay for public Wifi (on the welcome splash page).

Broadband is only one ingredient is success –relationship is another

Red Wing Ignite supports economic development in Red Wing based on community-wide access to gig broadband. They were a Blandin Broadband community. They’re a great example of maximizing the value of a gig by getting people to use it.

The Red Wing Republican Eagle recently posted a letter from Susan Sorensen Langer (founder of Live.Give.Save., won the annual Ignite Cup business competition in early 2017) about Red Wing Ignite’s role in that win.

First info on Live.Give.Save

Live.Give.Save. is a mobile app that makes saving and giving as easy as spending. We’re aiming it particularly at millennials. We call the concept “Spaving.” Every time you spend on yourself, you save for your future and give to someone in need without changing a thing. Together, we’re making the world better … one community, one person, one transaction at a time.

Now some background on the development of the business…

Kirsten Mikkelson Ford of Focus Design sparked everything off by recommending I meet Neela Mollgaard of Red Wing Ignite. That spark lit a flame of opportunities that continue today. Neela first invited me to apply to Red Wing Ignite’s accelerator program, followed by an introduction to Mark Thein of Small Business Development Center, who helped me develop my business financials, and then Shari Chorney of Red Wing Port Authority, who suggested I apply for a loan from agency’s newly created entrepreneurial fund.

I joined Ignite’s coworking office space and received a Port Authority loan to conduct marketing and develop a prototype. Kirsten, Neela, Mark and Shari participated in a “Design Thinking” session at The Nerdery (a large software development firm in Bloomington, Minn.,) to help inform and shape our prototype design. The prototype was completed in December 2015 and used to help solicit funding from prospective early-stage investors (aka, family and friends). I was introduced to the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation where I also applied for funding.

My company — Live.Give.Save. — became a formal corporate entity in February 2016 and I started raising capital, over-subscribing our seed round that summer. I hired a chief technology officer, Tim Dokken (who serendipitously grew up and graduated from Red Wing High School), to lead our technology development.

Now here’s the best part: While sitting around a table during one of our coworking updates at Ignite, I shared that we needed to establish a beta test for our product. I received a list of individuals to contact in the community and the concept of our community-led, controlled beta test was formed. …

We were recently invited to participate in the Ignite Cup — and won! — earning us a semifinalist position in the Minnesota Cup, the nation’s largest statewide startup competition.

I just had a funny conversation today about broadband and increase in jobs. I maintained that jobs was a 20th century measurement for a 21st century opportunity. I think this is a good example. You need broadband – but that’s not the only connection you need. Communities with broadband and support like Red Wing Ignite are well poised to take on their future!


Making a short list for the Farm Bill? Remember broadband.

The Marshall Independent is reporting from Farmfest on conversations happening on the Farm Bill. He’s a very abbreviated broadband take what they are talking about…

Dozens of farmers, ranchers and organizational leaders voiced their opinion on what should be in the next Farm Bill to U.S. House Agricultural Committee members, drawing a big crowd to the Farmfest Forum building for 2-and-1/2 hours Thursday. …

[Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary] Wertish said broadband expansion to rural areas, high healthcare costs are huge issues. …

Minnesota Association of Townships Executive Director Gary Pedersen said rural broadband expansion should be considered a “have to be” and a utility.

It’s a really interesting list  of “must haves” – worth a read. I was glad and not surprised to see broadband mentioned.

ALA opens application period for Libraries Ready to Code grants

The American Library Association (ALA) has opened the application period for grants to develop public and school library programming that promotes computer science (CS) and computational thinking (CT) among youth. The grant opportunity, announced last month, is the latest phase of the Libraries Ready to Code (RtC) initiative of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), sponsored by Google.

Through a competitive request for proposals (RFP) process, a cohort of 25-50 libraries will be selected to receive grants of up to $25,000 to design and implement youth coding programs that incorporate Ready to Code concepts. Through these programs, the library cohort will collaboratively develop, pilot and rapidly iterate a “Ready to Code” toolkit containing a selection of CS resources for libraries and an implementation guide.

For more information about this funding opportunity, go to http://www.ala.org/tools/readytocode

Wouldn’t it be great to have Minnesota see some of these grants?

Learn to Code – a kids program in Winona working through Project FINE

I’m delighted to share details on an initiative from Project FINE and supported by the Blandin Foundation. It’s a great sample of what you can do with a kids coding class, if you have a college nearby…

Learn To Code program activities began in August 2016 with the summer camp.  In our grant proposal, we planned to host two camps: one in Winona and one in St. Charles.  During the camp planning phase, we worked closely with the College of Business at Winona State University and they generously allowed us to access technology and space on-campus to host a combined camp for youth from Winona & St. Charles.  This was a great benefit for the students, because we had a wonderful technology setup, with laptops, ipads, dual monitors for instruction and plenty of classroom space.  It also gave the youth a chance to visit the Winona State University campus and become familiar with a college classroom setting.

We were fortunate to have a local instructor to teach coding to youth at the summer camp.   He works in the technical support field and had previously taught coding classes for a local charter school.  Our camp sessions were held over 2 weeks from 4-8pm each weekday.  We originally planned to host the camp for 2 hours each day, but our instructor suggested we expand the camp time to allow the kids more hands-on experience, and the timeframe worked out very well.  16 youth participated in the camp, and they learned basic coding principles and how to use XCode to modify existing apps for games.  They worked together to modify and develop games and learned how to use a test mode to simulate the app use on a computer.  They also learned how to access their apps on an ipad, check for bugs, identify coding errors and make simple adjustments.

Following the coding camp, after-school sessions were held in both Winona and St. Charles during the 2016-17 school year.  Based on our experience with the app camp, we chose to host the Winona sessions in the fall of the year and the St. Charles sessions in the spring.  This allowed our volunteers and staff to focus on assisting one group at a time and gave more continuity for the youth.  50 students participated in the after-school sessions and they each learned to create multiple apps.  During the summer camp, we gained a greater understanding of the difficulty of creating apps or games and the challenges of writing code.  For the after-school programming, we decided to use a simpler block method of coding and used “Scratch” curriculum and activities developed by MIT.  This was a good choice, as the after-school sessions were shorter and less intense than the camp and the simpler coding format allowed youth to jump right in and begin creating code.

Throughout the after-school sessions, we had a group of 10 volunteers who served as mentors for the youth. They were a wonderful addition to the program, allowing for more individual assistance for youth and providing technical knowledge that was beyond our staff capacity.  The majority of the volunteers were college students studying in technology- or computer-related fields, and a few were young professionals already working in a career in technology.

One of our additional goals for the project was to provide information about STEM-related careers and increase interest through visits to tech companies or educational institutions.  The volunteers helped with this goal throughout the project, serving as role models for the youth and sharing their educational and work experiences.  We also toured the Winona State University campus during the summer camp and visited Minnesota State College Southeast in April 2017.  At Minnesota State College Southeast, the Dean of Trade and Technology gave the youth a tour of their various technology classrooms and lab spaces and shared the many technology-related opportunities they offer.  We also visited Benchmark Electronics, which is an international electronics company that engineers and manufactures a wide variety of technology products that are used in health care, manufacturing, transportation and other areas.  The youth learned about some of the products they design and manufacture, and saw various stages of production from concept drawings to computer boards to assembly and completed parts.  It was a great tie-in to our Minnesota State College Southeast visit, as our tour guide was an alumnus who has worked at the company for many years and now holds an upper-level management position.  The youth were very surprised to learn about all the different products, the type of coding and technology used to created them, and the many technology career options in the Winona area.

Strut Your Stuff Broadband Tour in Ely: Community portal, feasibility, PCs for People

Three broadband visits in one day! We met with the Ely Thursday night. I didn’t record most of the introductions but I wanted to include the comment from one attendee talking about what brought her to the meeting and the broadband effort…

Ely is known for being divisive but broadband is an issue that we can all agree on. We need it. We need it now! It’s nice to be pushing in the same direction to get broadband – even with folks with whom we don’t always agree.

And my notes… Continue reading

Strut Your Stuff Broadband Tour in Hibbing: Business training, wifi, feasibility study

This afternoon I got to spend time with folks in Hibbing to hear about how they are building greater interest and great use of broadband. It was great to hear about the projects and hear how the projects have allowed people to connect with parts of their community that hadn’t been part of their regular lives previously. Broadband connects people online and off!

Feasibility study

  • Neo Connect – Diana Cruse
  • They will do the feasibility and be prepared to turn it into a MN state grant application.
  • The cost is $93,000
  • There are 13 communities involved in the feasibility study all in the Iron Range.
  • Kick off meeting is tomorrow.

Hibbing schols has a 1-to-1 program

  • We were able to increase public wifi.
  • Going to look at places with wifi and see if we can expand wif for public at certain times. We can broadcast that info – so people can go to the college (for example) as opposed to McDonald’s.
  • We are getting mobile hotspots for library so that folks can check them out. We’re going to test and map based on vendors.

Online marketing for small businesses

  • 7 bus owners working on e-marketing – starting with a contest
  • We will be measuring results – are they making more money?

Technology Career Fair – November 7

  • Invite HS students to learn about tech jobs
  • Expecting 300 students

Have speakers lined up

  • Medical
  • Security
  • Manufacturing
  • Social Media marketing

PCs for People

  • They will deliver 53 computers on Aug 16
  • Computers will go to everyone from kids to seniors and ABE students.
  • Compudyne will offer tech support.

Hey – what about a technology fair for adults?