Entrepreneur Mag says small business needs better broadband

Entrepreneur Magazine outlines three problems they see facing potential entrepreneurs:

  1. Affordable education solves obsolescence – alternatives when jobs are lost to robotics
  2. Millions lack internet access
  3. Packing the backup chute – need for stability

Here’s what they have to say about internet access…


For some American would-be entrepreneurs, there’s still a substantial hurdle to overcome, and it’s something almost anyone reading this takes for granted; internet access.

In 1977, more than two out of every ten U.S. startups were in rural areas. Today, when high-speed internet service is a business essential, that ratio is just over one in ten. The reality is that 39 percent of rural Americans (23 million people) lack access to broadband internet speeds. Rural areas often receive “hand me down” equipment after it has been used in larger urban areas, which means rural internet service is forever behind the times.

Joel Young runs his video and animation business out of his rural Ohio home where he struggles with unreliable connectivity and speeds a fraction of what urban and suburban communities get. Joel’s is the exact kind of business that could flourish in a rural area, pulling in customers from a global marketplace without relying on local demand, but without reliable access and equal speed, businesses like Joel’s struggle to ever get off the ground and simply don’t have the same chances to succeed.

The Obama Administration introduced the National Broadband Plan in 2010, following the example of previous generations that brought electricity and telephone connectivity to every home in the country. They understood universal access is crucial for the development of the country. While President Trump and Congressional leaders have made statements around infrastructure spending, the FCC is killing a program to bring high-speed internet to low-income households with children. You could argue the administration is working against expanding crucial infrastructure.

Webinar: How small Minnesota companies can connect to Cash for STEM Internships

This looks like a great opportunity for the right business. For businesses in rural areas, it’s a nice way to introduce a young person to your community. The webinar is hosting by the MHTA (MN High Tech Association) but the webinar and the opportunity is not restricted to members…

Webinar: How small Minnesota companies can connect to Ca$h for STEM Internships | Minnesota High Tech Association

Do you work for or with small companies looking for science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) interns? Have you heard of SciTechsperience, a state-funded program that helps employers cover 50% of a STEM intern’s wages up to $2,500?

Hosts:                   Becky Siekmeier, SciTechsperience Internship Program at MHTA
Date:                     Thursday, February 23, 2017
Time:                    1:30 PM CST
Duration:             60 Minutes
Location:             Online
Cost:                      FREE


This webinar will explain how small to mid-sized companies can take advantage of SciTechsperience, an exciting internship program that provides a low-cost solution for Minnesota businesses seeking talented college interns in STEM majors. SciTechsperience, a free, state-wide, state funded program brought to you by the Minnesota Employment & Economic Development and the Minnesota High Tech Association, provides hiring companies with a cash match of 50 percent of the intern’s wages up to $2,500.

Learn about:

  • Who can participate
  • What a SciTechsperience internship looks like – stories from the field
  • Where and when to apply
  • Why STEM is important to Minnesota’s economic future
  • How to help companies in your community take advantage of this FREE program

What does broadband mean for Brainerd? More business!

The Institute for Local Self Reliance recently highlighted the importance of broadband to a rural community and the power of the long term investment a local cooperative broadband provider is able to make….

A recent Brainerd Dispatch article highlighted several businesses that credit the local workforce and the network for their decision to build satellite offices in the Brainerd area.

They include stories from various businesses that stayed or moved to the area, at least in part because of the available broadband.




In addition to “battle-tested sales people who can establish relationships with customers and can ‘close the deal,’” GovMint.com’s Director of Sales Jim Martin told the Dispatch:

Equally important is the area’s fiber optic network, a high-speed Internet connection that allows the sales staff to access the company’s giant customer and product database, and efficiently complete online sales forms.

Martin said the company relies on its computer system for call routing, customer information, online orders and sales leads that come through the Internet. GovMint.com’s sales staff makes 150-300 customer calls a day.

“The system has to be reliable or Jim’s phone starts ringing,” Martin said. “The service we have in Crosslake is very fast and very reliable.”

MN Department of Human Services…

The Minnesota Department of Human Services chose Brainerd for its service center in part because they needed access to a network that could handle its technology demands. Applications are processed digitally with high bandwidth applications that require access to large state databases. Fiber-optic technology is the obvious choice to handle the work efficiently. There are 160 employees now working in the state’s DHS service center.

Northern Tool+ Equipment 

Northern Tool + Equipment switched to a VoIP phone system and uses fiber connectivity for representatives to work from home. With online sales and 97 stores across the country, the ability to communicate to Pequot Lakes contact center staff must be fast and efficient.

“The fiber infrastructure is crucial to our operation,” said Todd Mouw, contact center operations manager. “We depend on the bandwidth not only for data processing capabilities but for our telephone infrastructure as well.”

Clow Stamping…

Clow Stamping, a local manufacturing firm, relies on the CTC network to send and receive data heavy files; for businesses, the ability to upload quickly and reliably is just as important as receiving downloads.

$7.72 million invested in Region Five broadband – more info from their 5 year study

Region Five (aka the Resilient Region) recently released a 5 year study. Very interesting to see the rise and impact of broadband. (Spoiler alert: they raised $7.72 million for broadband in the area.)

I think things got serious when they expanded their vision to explicitly include broadband (and several other topics). If you want it to get done, I think you have to name it – explicitly…

Theme areas include:

  1. housing and affordable housing
  2. connectivity/broadband
  3. energy
  4. natural resources & development patterns
  5. education & workforce development
  6. transportation
  7. economic engines
  8. health care
  9. changing population
  10. government efficiency and effectiveness

The report goes on to outline the broadband work…

Broadband Adoption and Connectivity Initiatives In 2011, R5DC was invited to participate as a Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community (MIRC) and to partner with the Blandin Foundation to provide public engagement and outreach for the Foundation’s $4.7 million Broadband grant, intended to increase levels of adoption and connectivity in rural Minnesota.  As a MIRC member, R5DC launched broadband initiatives such as

PC’s for People  is a 501C3 that recycles and refurbishes used computers and donates them to low income individuals and families throughout Minnesota.   These services are located in both Crow Wing and Cass counties.

Lightspeed Grant  – As a result of a Blandin Lightspeed grant, R5DC was able to equip 11  rural fire departments with the technology to live stream training events resulting in increased efficiency and cost savings for rural fire departments in administering training.

And detail one story…

Expanding Broadband Access to the Last Rural Mile

The Resilient Region Plan prioritized the need for increased connectivity to adequate, affordable broadband as crucial for retaining and attracting both businesses and residents, improving efficiencies and quality in education and health care, and alleviating problems of workforce shortage.

“People are interested in staying and/or moving to the rural communities in the region. This includes millennials staying in their hometowns or moving in for the small-town way of life for themselves and their children, and baby boomers making their lake homes permanent residences. A crucial factor is that they need to have broadband,” echoed Brainerd hometown millennial, Staci Headley, R5DC Transportation Planner.

Many R5DC’s residents live in “last rural mile” communities and farming communities that are “underserved” and “unserved” due to factors that go into making broadband both technically and economically feasible for those who provide it and those who buy it. Multiple organizations have supported broadband expansion. The Blandin Foundation supported the Resilient Region’s Virtual Highway Task Force as a Blandin Broadband Community. National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA) regional purchasing alliance cooperative invested over $200,000 in the past years in engineering needed for grant applications and coordination of other activities by the Virtual Highway Task Force, a subgroup within the Resilient Region Connectivity theme area.

With the initial $4.2 million investments (2014 – 2015) from grants R5DC co-wrote with CTC and West Central Telephone Association (WCTA), along with the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development Investment of $3 million, a total of $7.72 million has been invested in the region to expand broadband infrastructure.  Connectivity to the last rural mile initiatives (January, 2016) have expanded broadband high speed access to 891 households, giving residents the ability to connect for telework, telehealth, and online learning, and strengthening broadband infrastructure for future growth. One hundred twenty-two low income families also have improved computer and internet skills.

Minnesota company making websites and apps accessible to people with disabilities

Hands up – how many of your bought at least half of your holiday presents online? Me too! Some site were easy to use; some where not. I had kid sending me empty shopping carts or texting me links I had to convert to my laptop if I needed to see shipping options. My fingers are crossed that everything arrives on time.

Now imagine the ups and downs of online holiday shopping if you had visual, physical or other impairments that made it even more difficult to complete a purchase online. Or imagine that you sell your wares online and you don’t even know if you’re losing sales because your site is not accessible – there’s a local company that can help with that. They were recently featured in The Line

While wheelchair ramps, closed captioning and wider doorways have become commonplace, the digital realm still lags behind.

Accessible360, founded by entrepreneur Mark Lacek, seeks to fix that oversight. The company’s purpose is to make websites and digital apps fully functional for those impaired by blindness, deafness, or physical or cognitive restrictions. The company was launched this April and began promotion last month, just in time to help businesses comply with a rollout of new regulations from the Department of Justice in 2018.

It’s something to think about – maybe not today, but next month when the rush is over and you have time to regroup and think about sales for 2017…

Checkout screens are a notorious problem for blind users, he explains, which alienates disabled users and decreases potential sales. Studies show that disabled Americans spend more time online than their non-disabled counterparts, so it’s essential for companies to adapt to their needs. “Up to 85 percent of websites are not compliant based on what the current ADA guidelines are,” says Lacek.

One added bonus – generally what’s good for accessibility is also good for search engine optimization!

Rural Minnesota needs broadband to diversify: Heard on MPR

Today I’m thankful for archived radio shows. Yesterday on MPR, Marianne Combs spoke about rural Minnesota and the economy. On the show she had Aaron Brown, author of “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range,”  the website “Minnesota Brown: Modern Life in Northern Minnesota, ‘ and host of The Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. Larry Cuffe Jr., mayor of Virginia and Ben Winchester, research fellow in the Extension Center for Community Vitality at the University of Minnesota.

It was great to hear from three experts with deep seeded roots in rural areas. The show is definitely worth a listen if you missed it too. I’m going to pare my notes down to what was explicitly said about broadband.

Several people noted that broadband is necessary for economic diversification. Not everyone wants to work for the Mining or to farm, broadband opens the door to other opportunities. Entrepreneurs need broadband to work with people around the world or across the street. And you can’t attract new businesses without broadband.

Upload speed matters. Ben pointed out that download is the speed of consumption; upload is the speed of production. He moved from Hancock to St Cloud only to find his broadband worsened in the move. He compared his experience uploading documents to the old dialup days when you’d click to send, to go bed, wake up and hope nothing broke. People cannot do business that way.

Broadband isn’t just for hipsters, Aaron noted. He has attended broadband meetings on the Iron Range and attendees include a broadband cross section of the community. People need broadband for work, family and education. Three things that matter a lot in rural areas.

I believe all three speakers spoke about the power of the cooperative to meet the broadband need in rural areas, especially where the market has failed. The cooperative is in a unique position to invest in the community because the shareholders are in or of the community.

Apply for MHTA’s 2017 ACE Leadership Program

A great opportunity from MHTA for the right person…

Now entering its 10th year, the purpose of the ACE Leadership Program is to develop and connect our region’s next generation technology leaders, and to assist them in preparing for the important roles that they will play in making and keeping our region globally competitive. Through teamwork, mentorship and action learning, the ACE Leadership Program provides invaluable experience and develops our next generation leaders as they move into their leadership roles of tomorrow.

Beginning in January, the program consists of seven day-long sessions over the course of the year. Senior executives from technology, government and education sectors will share lessons learned in their areas of expertise. Participants will discuss ideas and apply them in their own organizations and collaborate with other next generation leaders. MHTA has a strong ACE Alumni group whose graduates meet regularly and continue to work on leadership development as well as community outreach focused on technology.

Investment: The program is $2,850 for MHTA members, $3,850 for non-MHTA members. This includes all meals and one night hotel accommodation for the kickoff session. It includes breakfast, lunch and parking at all sessions and one ticket to MHTA’s Spring Conference.

Applications for the 2017 ACE Leadership Program are now open. Apply here. Applications will close on January 27, 2017.

If you have any question about the program, please contact Claire Ayling at 952-230-4553 or cayling@mhta.org.