The Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship is dedicated to advancing education and support for Augsburg students and graduates in the disciplines of innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Its focus will be on the practice and psychology of innovation and entrepreneurship, with a focus on the synthesis and sequencing of design thinking, lean start-up, and agile frameworks. It is intended to yield practical learnings and outcomes for students and graduates alike.
The Center’s Innovator Series features six speakers each academic year.
October 23, 2023: Alex French
Alex is an innovative thought leader, early adopter, and disruptor in all things consumer brands. Where others see challenge and hardships, Alex sees an opportunity to innovate, disrupt, and accelerate new ideas. With passions and expertise in health and wellness, food and beverage, technology, and the millennial consumer, Alex has had the opportunity to consult, lead teams, and launch businesses within the food and beverage industries. Alex currently acts as CEO of Get Bizzy Inc., a beverage company whose mission is to be the best by providing the highest quality and most convenient beverages on the market. When not working on his business, Alex spends his time mentoring college students and training for ultra-endurance races. Prior to starting Get Bizzy Inc. Alex worked as an Associate at 301 Inc. General Mills’ Venture Capital division, as a Marketing Analyst for Cheerios, an M&A Analyst at Lazard Middle Market, Demand Forecast Analyst at Best Buy, and started Lifty, a consumer brand in the snow sports industry. Alex holds a BA in Finance and Entrepreneurship from the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN.
SEPTember 18, 2023: DAVE MacLennan
APRIL 13, 2023: JOHNNY OPARA
“FINDING YOUR PURPOSE”
JO Companies has built on Johnny’s leadership and relationship-building experience to develop high-quality housing that’s affordable, sustainable, and will stand the test of time. Johnny is a licensed real estate agent and specializes in creating generational wealth for first-time home buyers. He serves on the Board of Directors for Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), and also serves on the Board of Directors for the Saint Paul Area Chamber and Advisory Board for the Rice and Larpenteur Alliance. Johnny graduated from Augsburg University with a B.A. in Business Administration and majored in Management.
JO Companies’ development philosophy is simple, “Building high-quality housing that’s market rate in design, sustainable, energy-efficient, and that will stand the test of time, but most importantly that’s affordable. We’re all human beings, and everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, and live somewhere they can be proud of.”
FEBRUaRY 7, 2023: JILL WIEDEMANN-WEST
“The Not-For-Profit as a Business Model”
Jill Wiedemann-West joined People Incorporated as its first Chief Operating Officer in 2010. She was promoted to CEO in 2014. Wiedemann-West’s professional background and experience are in healthcare operations, management, and service development. Prior to joining People Incorporated, she was a chief operating officer at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. She holds a Master of Arts in Psychology and Human Behavior from National University in San Diego and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Social Work from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Congratulations to Jill for being honored by Minnesota 500 magazine (Minnesota Monthly) as one of the state’s 500 most powerful and influential leaders in 2022!
NOVEMBER 1, 2023: ROBERTA DRESSEN
“If you follow your passion – life will unfold in miraculous ways!”
Roberta “Bobbie” Antoine Dressen is a strategic and visionary Health Care and Life Sciences leader focused on driving results and advancing public health. Dressen is the President and CEO of Medical Alley Association, an organization based in Minnesota representing one of the most diverse and influential healthcare ecosystems in the world. Medical Alley’s mission is to champion and facilitate an environment that enables health technology and care organizations to innovate, succeed, and influence the evolution of healthcare. Under Dressen’s leadership, the organization has grown to more than 750 member companies, ranging from pre-revenue startups to Fortune 500 companies.
Prior to joining Medical Alley, Dressen served in senior leadership roles at some of Minnesota’s largest healthcare companies, including Boston Scientific, Medtronic, UnitedHealth, and Allina Health. At the age of 25, Dressen was named CEO of Shriner’s Hospital for Children, Twin Cities, where she successfully led a multimillion-dollar facility replacement project. Dressen is also currently Operating Partner at LFE Capital, a private equity firm with a mission to build great wellness companies and connect extraordinary women leaders to the capital they need. In 2014, she was named one of Minnesota’s Top 10 Women Corporate Executives by Twin Cities Business magazine, based on career achievements and leadership.
SEPTEMBER 27, 2022: JULIE KELLER
“A Map to Africa with Head and Heart: How to Build a Nonprofit and make a Difference”
For many years, Julie Keller has had friends in Kenya. In 2005, she was on the first trip to visit Mama Ada and her neighbors. It was on this trip that the vision of The Mama Ada Foundation was born, as new friends sat in a green gazebo on Mama Ada’s lawn. Since then, Julie has used her skills and passion to create communication, fundraising, programming and administrative systems in the organization, working with many others.
Julie graduated with an undergraduate degree from St. Olaf College and she holds a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and Social Policy from the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota. She has worked in a number of nonprofits in various capacities, as well as for Head Start at the Minnesota Department of Education. This experience provided her with opportunities and knowledge to do consulting work in grants management/application and strategic planning/ evaluation.
She currently resides in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where she lives with her husband, Peter, and their two sons, Evan and Ben.
When Julie is not busy dreaming new ideas for The Mama Ada Foundation, she loves reading, writing, gardening, cooking, learning French, yoga, and many other pastimes….fully believing that this world is a beautiful place, especially with friends in Kenya (and all those who love The Mama Ada Foundation!).
APRIL 12, 2022: DR. RYAN D. HURT
“Forced to Innovate: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Mayo Clinic”
MARCH 2, 2022: MICHAEL MILLER
FEBRUARY 1, 2022: ANDRE CREIGHTON AND MYCHAL FRELIX
“A Signl For Change”
Mychal Frelix serves as a co-founder and Chief Growth Officer at TurnSignl. Frelix is also co-founder and Vice President of Foreshadow; a non-profit organization focused on providing career exploration services to inner-city youth. Frelix also volunteers with several non-profit organizations in the Twin Cities area. Before joining TurnSignl, Frelix managed Enterprise Accounts at Sony Electronics, where he helped Fortune 500 companies adopt innovative technology solutions and guided channel partnership relationships. Frelix has eight years of technology and sales experience with extensive knowledge of cloud, hybrid IT, SaaS, ERP/MRP, hardware, and electronics. Frelix holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas (2013), where he majored in Marketing, and a master’s of business administration (MBA) from Augsburg University (2019) focused on Organizational Leadership.
Frelix is passionate about leveraging technology to solve complex social problems and has transformed this passion into helping launch TurnSignl in three markets, with 12 markets on the horizon in 2022.
Andre Creighton serves as a co-founder and Chief Financial Officer at TurnSignl. Creighton graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 2013 with a Public Accounting degree, and Augsburg University in 2019 with an MBA in Finance. He possesses 8+ years of accounting, finance, and operational expertise. During the early part of his career, he spent four years in Public Accounting, working in taxation for CPA firm Lurie LLP and a national conglomerate Baker Tilly LLP. Thereafter, he worked for Cargill Inc in their corporate tax strategy department for 2 1/2 years as a Senior Tax Analyst. His final stint before joining TurnSignl was with SPIRE Credit Union as the lead Senior Financial Analyst, where he helped build out their Finance Department.
Creighton possesses a strong knowledge of accounting and financial compliance. Additionally, he has an exceptional understanding of KPIs and how to build ad hoc analyses of the business health and future initiatives.
DECEMBER 7, 2021: DAN SCHWARZ
“Craft Beer: A Recipe for Success!”
OCTOBER 5, 2021: Björn Stansvik
“An Innovation and Entrepreneurial Story in 5 Acts”
As founder and CEO of global software design and development firm MentorMate, Bjorn Stansvik has steered the company’s vision from inception to 750 full-time employees, accelerating digital ideas with end-to-end technology services since 2001. He has worked in high-tech and strategic business development in Europe, Latin America, and the US at leading companies including Procter & Gamble, Ericsson, and Arthur D. Little prior to founding MentorMate in 2001.
Bjorn remains a guiding force for MentorMate, constantly challenging the team to explore the boundaries of new technologies like AI and cloud computing, and to pioneer digital innovation in healthcare as well as entering new geographic markets. Under his leadership, the company has grown its design and technical capabilities across multiple industries.
MentorMate was named a Top ICT Employer in Bulgaria, and the Star Tribune included MentorMate on its Top 150 Workplaces list. The newest of its seven offices opened in AstraZeneca’s BioVentureHub in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2016.
Bjorn holds a Master’s of Science in Business Administration from the Gothenburg School of Economics and has completed a Master’s thesis in Industrial Economics at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. A recognized technology innovator, Bjorn has won numerous distinctions and is a regular speaker to business groups on entrepreneurship, technology, and management.
April 14, 2021: Carline Bengtsson
MARCH 3, 2021: TOM MAYER
“How You Can Be a Rainmaker”
February 3, 2021: Yasameen Sajady and Samuel Ruiz Plaza
Yasameen Sajady is the co-founder and Chief of Operations at Maazah, founded with her sisters and mother in 2014. “Growing up, we can’t remember a meal that didn’t include Mom’s famous Magic Green Sauce. A phenomenal cook, her secret blend of cilantro and peppers was the universal condiment that made everything more flavorful and delicious. We put it on everything — from rice and korma to tacos and pizza.”
After graduating with her MBA from Augsburg University in 2020, Yasameen kicked this saucy side hustle into full swing. The move from markets to manufacturing wasn’t easy. “Scaling our food company in 2020 brought on many challenges. There were major delays in sourcing materials, banks didn’t have time for us, and we heard ‘no’ from every direction. Regardless of the bottlenecks and odds stacked against us, we hit store shelves the week of Thanksgiving.”
Samuel Ruiz Plaza is the founder and owner of an early-stage start-up, Pumuki Labs, a company that sub-licenses Automated Checkout Software (ACS) used to acquire highly sought-after items in the streetwear industry. Pumuki Labs follows a business-to-consumer model that separates itself through top-tier customer service and is dedicated to offering one-on-one expert support on handling the software.
Following his passion for soccer, Samuel joined the Augsburg Men’s Soccer Staff as a Graduate Assistant in the fall of 2019 after a successful college career where he was a National Championship and All-American. At the same time, he was admitted into the MBA program at Augsburg, and through this, he developed new passions in business and shoes.
Samuel says, “When you do something you love, 99% of the time it doesn’t feel like work. It has been rewarding seeing my hobbies turn into something more than some sort of ‘side-hustle’. Looking back on the past year, it’s incredible to see how far I have come. That being said, this is really only the beginning, and there is still so much work to be done. I am excited about what the future has in store.”
December 9, 2020: Mike Nathan
“Innovation: New value through old ideas”
Mike Nathan is Co-Founder and CEO of FritzFinn, an advance wound care solutions company that is passionately committed to doing good things for other people. Most recently in the wake of the George Floyd murder, Mike co-founded a real-time, on-demand, legal representation app connecting citizens with attorneys in real-time called TurnSignl. Rounding out his time as a partner in Twin Ignition Startup Garage in NE Minneapolis, Mike finds joy in giving back and guiding first-time entrepreneurs in this business incubator.
Mike was the co-founder and former CEO of Livio Health Group, an innovative care delivery system using mobile urgent care and on-site clinics to provide access for all. In addition to FritzFinn, TurnSignl, and Twin Ignition, he serves on the boards for Nightware, Inc., Kaleidoscope Group, The Watch Group, and Brother Justus Whiskey Company. Mike is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and MBA graduate, husband, and father of two who resides in Mendota Heights, MN.
October 28, 2020: Anne Finch
“A Leader’s Purpose”
Anne Finch is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Logistics Health Incorporated (LHI), a subsidiary of OptumServe, the federal health services business of Optum, focused on providing services to the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as other government and commercial entities. Optum is a division of UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune 6 company that employs more than 300,000 people worldwide; 17,000 of whom are IT professionals. Before becoming CEO, she served as LHI’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) for four years. Anne has also been Vice President of UnitedHealth Group Solution Support Services (System Operations) where she oversaw a team of 1,500 IT professionals in the United States, India and the Philippines who operated 24/7/365. Prior to that assignment, she was the Vice President of Portfolio Management for UnitedHealthcare’s Employer and Individual division, overseeing their $800 million in project investments. Anne is also a UnitedHealth Group culture facilitator, providing culture workshops across the enterprise.
September 30, 2020: Dr. Jeff Cernohous
“Leading In and Simplifying Complexity: ONE Entrepreneur’s Perspective on Building an Innovative Organization”
Dr. Jeff Cernohous is the Founder and COO of Interfacial, a Nagase Company. For more than two decades, he and his companies have been recognized leaders in disruptive innovation, particularly in the development of advanced materials technology platforms. Dr. Cernohous is himself a serial entrepreneur and innovator. He launched his career as a successful innovator at 3M, and left at a young age to form his first company, Interfacial Consultants (IFC). He successfully built and sold IFC to 3D printing leader Stratasys in 2016. He then launched, developed and sold the company Interfacial to Nagase, a large global chemical conglomerate.