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I really wanted to love this conference. After all, it had the makings of the ideal design gathering for the Spring of 2010: A top-notch line-up of speakers from the design and business worlds, including some of my heroes, old and new (designer, Stefan Sagmeister; venture capitalist, Fred Wilson; Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey); a first-class venue (The Times Center in midtown Manhattan); a focus on the “how” of the creative process rather than the “what;” and all viewed through the lens of trendiest trend site Cool Hunting and the white hot creative consulting firm Behance. Plus the reviews of last year’s 99% were ecstatic.

How could this be anything but spectacular?

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Scott Litman and I have been traveling in each others orbit for the last five years. In 2005, my wife Lisa and I met Scott and his business partner Dan Mallin when we entered the inaugural edition of the Minnesota Cup entrepreneurship competition, which the pair co-founded. At the time, the Cup was an unknown entity, but after receiving more than 600 entries that first year, Litman and Mallin soon confirmed their suspicion that Minnesota is an untapped reservoir of start-up activity. Type 1 Tools, our original product line of diabetes education tools that would eventually become HealthSimple, went on to place third in the 2005 Cup—a pivotal milestone in the development of that business. Litman and Mallin then became key advisors to Lisa and me as we navigated the complicated waters of our business acquisition with Johnson & Johnson in the years to follow.

In it’s five-year history, the Minnesota Cup has become a highly anticipated, and wildly competitive, fixture in the local business calendar with more than 1,000 entries last year and more than $100,000 in prize money on the line. In addition to their leadership of the Cup, Litman and Mallin have founded Magnet 360, a Twin Cities-based network of marketing services agencies. With the 2010 Cup deadline approaching (May 21), I thought it would be a good time to check in with Scott Litman. The following exchange is taken from a recent email conversation. Read the rest of this entry »

“Good-paying jobs don’t come from bailouts. They come from start-ups. And where do start-ups come from? They come from smart, creative, inspired risk-takers. How do we get more of those?”

I tend to write mostly about the “micro” of the entrepreneurial experience here on Merge, but Tom Friedman has that amazing ability to sum up the “macro” in such an engaging and concise way that he frequently entices me to take a few steps back and try to see the big picture. Such was the case with his column from Sunday, April 3 in which he calls for a loosening of immigration policies as a way to attract the “high-IQ risk-takers” who have fueled American innovation in the past. Friedman—who preaches eloquently that the U.S. should stop swimming against the current of globalization—points out that a unique combination of factors, including “our vibrant and meritocratic university system,” has historically drawn many of the best and brightest to the U.S. Now, he suggests, we are losing that “differentiated edge in attracting and enabling the world’s biggest mass of smart, creative risk-takers.” Read the rest of this entry »

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