Executive DirectorMaria Ploessl serves as the first Executive Director of Minnestar, a nonprofit organization committed to building, nurturing and engaging those interested in technology through meaningful connection. In her role, she works to promote the strategic vision and growth of the organization, while developing events and experiences that bring the MN tech community together. She also serves on two strategic initiatives of Forge North: as a member of the Racial Equity project, and the chair of the Forge North Entrepreneur Support Organization group, convening leaders of organizations in the MN tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Recently she served as the Operations Chair for the TechnovationMN board of directors, supporting the great work in inspiring girls and nonbinary youth to make an impact in their community using technology. She also served as a member of the Tech Steering Committee for Make. It. MSP, working on attraction and retention of tech talent to the region, and served as the Interim Board Co-Chair for Forge North, a coalition dedicated to making MN the problem-solving capital of the new economy. She has over 10 years of program management, administration, and community engagement experience in the nonprofit and education sector. She is a former educator with Minneapolis Public Schools, and was selected as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Bragança, Brazil where she developed university-level educational programming and events.
Heather MickmanHeather Mickman is VP Platform Engineering + Practices at Optum. Throughout her career, she has built APIs to unlock enterprise data, created awesome platforms, led Ops organizations, and built supply chain software for Fortune 50 companies. Heather has a passion for technology, building high performing teams, driving a culture of innovation, and having fun along the way.
Charles Edge is the CTO of bootstrappers.mn. He holds 35 years of experience as a developer, administrator, network architect, product manager, entrepreneur, and CTO. He is the author of 20 books and more than 6,000 blog posts on technology, and has served as an editor and author for many publications. Charles also serves on the board of directors for a number of companies and non-profits, and frequently speaks at conferences including DefCon, BlackHat, LinuxWorld, the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, and a number of Apple-focused conferences. Charles is also the author of krypted.com and a cofounder/host of the MacAdmins Podcast and The History Of Computing podcast.
Fredrick Blocton (President of UPNet CSG) has over 30 years experience in entrepreneurship and executive level technology implementation worldwide, designing and developing technology solutions for a variety of corporate, construction and K-12 markets. Past clients include Arne Duncan (former US Secretary of Education), Chicago Public Schools, Dr. Clinton Stapleton, US Virgin Islands, Dr. Mary Guinn, Gary Community School Corporation, Medtronic, and General Mills, US Bank Stadium, and Super Bowl 52.
In addition to his extensive technology experience, Fredrick has a passion for supporting the unique needs of individuals and organizations through his volunteer efforts. He is Chairman of the Board for 180 Degrees, president of the Twin Cities Chapter of BDPA (Black Data Processing Associates), and serves on the BDPA foundation board. He has volunteered with 100 Men strong, Achieve Minneapolis and Minneapolis Public Schools, and he is on the board of Osiris Organization which delivers technology training to youth at 36 Recreational Centers in the City of Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
He is the current President of UpNet Client Solutions Group; Fredrick holds a degree in Computer Engineering Technology from FIT.
Caroline Karanja is the founder and CEO of 26 Letters, a technology enabled equity and inclusion company. Using data, insight and learning opportunities, 26 Letters helps address equity in education and helps organizations understand and incorporate, diversity, equity and inclusion in their attraction, recruiting and advancement efforts. Caroline is also active in the local entrepreneurial and technology ecosystem. She is on the board of the U-YMCA and participates in the community to encourage more youth people to explore their entrepreneurial ventures.
Antoinette Smith has been a part of the Twin Cities tech community since moving from her hometown of Chicago in December of 2010. She has worked in a variety of roles since that time, from solutions engineer to software engineer. Antoinette is the co-founder of Techquity –a local organization focused on creating an inclusive tech economy for people of color in tech. She is also the co-owner of RawaySmith, a software/digital service company. Since completing a dual masters in business and software engineering at the University of St. Thomas in 2017, Antoinette has finally found the time to return to her goal of completing 50 marathons in all 50 states (she has 15 so far).
Jenessa White is a Software Engineer at ConvertKit living in Minneapolis. She’s a semi-professional athlete who loves listening to hot takes on tech, music, sports, and food. She has served as treasurer for the UMN Black Student Union as well as Voices Merging, a group promoting urban art in the Twin Cities. They are also active in the Twin Cities community and believe technology can help create change.
Eve Poeschl works at Boston Scientific within Interventional Cardiology, and provides broad strategic leadership over the WATCHMAN digital portfolio. She has an entrepreneurial mindset and broad knowledge of technology, with a strong perspective for digital strategy. Eve is active in the community and passionate about diversity and inclusion in tech. She holds a BS in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota, and has worked as a network engineer, developer, solutions architect, and managed teams over the past 20 years.
She founded ServerlessMN, a monthly meetup group dedicated to curating a local community for serverless technology enthusiasts. She’s a judge for the Minnesota Cup High Tech division, a part of the Lunar Startups Expert Network, and is co-founder of MNclude, a safe and supportive group within the technology industry in MN committed to taking actionable steps toward building a diverse, equitable and inclusive tech community. Over the past several years, Eve was a board member for TechnovationMN, current judge for The Minnesota Cup High Tech Division, and a part of the Lunar Startups Expert Network. Eve also made the 40 under 40 list published by the Minneapolis Business Journal in 2020.
Lizzie Breyer Bowman
Lizzie Breyer Bowman is the managing director for national marketing and marketing capabilities at American Public Media. In this role, she is responsible for marketing for all of APM’s national radio and podcast programs. Prior to joining APM, Lizzie worked as an independent marketing consultant, working with large CPG companies and early-stage startups, and she also spent almost 8 years at General Mills. She holds an MBA from the University of Virginia and a BA in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her pre-MBA career was spent in journalism, at newspapers such as The New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
For the past 8 years, Lizzie has served as the co-chair of the Minneapolis board for No Kid Hungry, the largest national non-profit dedicated to ending childhood hunger. She has a passion for creating greater equity and access to the most important building blocks for future success: food, shelter, education, and technology.
Damien Riehl is a technology lawyer and technologist with experience in software design, data privacy, and cybersecurity. Damien has 15 years’ experience working for judges and firms on complex litigation. His practice experience includes data privacy (CIPP/US), patents, copyright, trademarks, business torts, breaches of contract, antitrust, financial litigation, and appeals.
In addition to legal practice, Damien began programming in 1985, started web design and development since 1995, designed software by leading a dev team in Lean and Agile processes, and recently began dabbling in Python to perform Natural Language Processing. Damien is currently a Vice President and Engagement Manager at Stroz Friedberg (an Aon company), managing digital forensics and cybersecurity engagements to bolster clients’ data security and resilience — both reactively and proactively.
Lindsi Gish is the founder and owner of gish&co.—a small strategic communications and digital marketing firm in Minneapolis. She’s also a former nonprofiteer, insatiable problem solver, digital enthusiast, Jane-of-many-trades, and self-aware extrovert. After spending a number of years at a regional nonprofit, followed by a global PR firm, Lindsi saw an opportunity to use her significant experience and robust network to develop creative approaches to solve communications and marketing challenges for nonprofits and small businesses—efficiently and cost-effectively. Founded in 2014, gish&co. does just that.
Lindsi also serves on the board of directors for Still Kickin, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that helps awesome people get through awful things, and is a former board member of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) where she was Director of Programming. She was an early participant in such community events as Social Media Breakfast Minneapolis/St. Paul, is a proud Fueled Collective (COCO) member, and attended her first Minnebar in 2007.
Kristin leads the Human Resources and Facilities functions at Arctic Wolf. This is Kristin’s fourth technology company where she has started and grown successful Human Resources teams for companies going through massive growth. Prior to Arctic Wolf, Kristin was the Vice President of People for Revel, a healthcare technology company. Prior to Revel, Kristin was the Vice President of Operations for Delaget as well as Head of Human Resources for Code42 Software. Kristin is a recipient of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s 2017 40 under 40 award, and a Women in Business honoree in 2018. Kristin graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a Bachelor’s degree in Travel Industry Management.
Jeff Sellner is a principal at CliftonLarsonAllen LLP. Since joining the firm in 1998, Jeff’s practice focuses on providing consulting, tax and assurance services to software developers, life sciences, technology and other high growth businesses. He has experience working with entrepreneurs on various issues including business strategies, profitability modeling, capital planning, intellectual property management, risk mitigation and succession planning. Jeff leads the firm’s technology industry group and has been a speaker on topics such as strategic and business planning, raising capital, entrepreneurship and starting a business.
Jenna Pederson is a Senior Developer Advocate for Amazon Web Services. She works to empower developers with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to bring their idea to life through technology. Jenna is a community builder at heart and is passionate about making space for more underrepresented folks in tech and entrepreneurship to come as their full selves. She is a proud Co-founder Emeritus of Hack the Gap, led the Twin Cities Geekettes for a number of years, and served on the City of Saint Paul’s Innovation Cabinet developing a strategy for job and business growth around technology and innovation in Saint Paul. For nearly a decade, Jenna was founder and principal engineer of 612 Software Foundry, where she helped entrepreneurs make their product ideas a reality.
Casey HelblingCasey Helbling is an entrepreneur and agile web architect with over 15 years full life-cycle experience in design, development and implementation of web based software systems. Mr. Helbling began his career building web applications for Imaginet and then as a consultant for the St. Paul company Fourth Generation. In late 2003 he founded Clear Consulting, an agile web development firm focused on delivering successful software projects through effective communication. In 2010, he founded Software for Good, a web and mobile development firm focused on making the world a better place by building software for companies doing great things.
Justin PorterJustin Porter has numerous years of experience in a variety of technology and business roles. His most recent position was working in an environment where he was responsible for launching high technology-based start-up companies. He previously worked with a variety of consulting clients in a professional services role. He has a balanced mix of consulting, industry, and technical experiences, allowing him to be leveraged in all phases of a company. Mr. Porter has experience across many technology sectors including life sciences, physical and engineering sciences, software and information technology, and agriculture. Mr. Porter holds a BSB in Management Information Systems and Entrepreneurial Studies from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and an MBA from the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management.
Sona MehringSona Mehring is the founder and CEO of CaringBridge, a nonprofit providing a caring social network with services for those going through a health journey. Since creating CaringBridge from a personal experience in 1997, CaringBridge has grown to serve more than 44 million people – helping them connect and provide support worldwide. Sona is frequently recognized and honored for her passion and visionary leadership. She was named one of 2011’s “Most Influential Women in Technology” by Fast Company. In 2010 she received the Health Care Heroes Award from Twin Cities Business magazine. She also has received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition in recognition of outstanding and invaluable service to the community, was recognized and highlighted by MSN.com as one of the nation’s leading Women Working for Change.
Jim BernardJim Bernard is Senior Vice President for Digital at the Star Tribune with responsibility for all the company’s digital operations, including StarTribune.com. Bernard, who joined the Star Tribune in 2010, previously was General Manager of MarketWatch.com, a highly successful national financial website that is a division of the Dow Jones Digital Network. During his tenure, he oversaw a complete redesign of the site and a 35 percent increase in site traffic and visitors, as well as a doubling of search traffic. Prior to becoming General Manager of MarketWatch, Bernard held several executive positions with Dow Jones, including Vice President of Customer Quality, Vice President of Strategy and Planning and Vice President of Strategy and Market Intelligence for the business-to-business division. Born in Detroit, MI, Bernard has worked his entire professional career in the Twin Cities market. He has an MBA from the University of Minnesota with a concentration in entrepreneurship and a BA in English from the University of Iowa.
Adrienne PeirceAdrienne Peirce, taskmaster and community catalyst. Adrienne brings solid project management from her time as an engineer in the medical device world, and strategic business development from her MBA at Carlson to match her genuine interest in building the technology community. She has a particular interest in technology for non-profits and general social good. Adrienne attended a few MinneBars and MinneDemos before joining Ben and Luke in maintaining the great momentum and moving the organization forward.
Kevin SprengKevin Spreng is a partner at Robins, Kaplan, Miller, & Ciresi. Kevin’s practice focuses on helping entrepreneurs and investors build technology based businesses by providing experienced, practical and tech savvy counsel in the areas of corporate finance, general corporate matters, mergers and acquisitions, strategic intellectual property monetization, and technology transactions.
Jamie ThinglestadJamie Thinglestad is CTO of SPS Commerce, the retail industry’s most broadly adopted cloud services platform. Previously, he served as CTO for leading financial publishers including the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, Enterprise Media Group of Dow Jones and MarketWatch, Inc. He was the founding CTO of BigCharts, the leading provider of financial tools and information to consumers and financial services companies via the web. In 1999, BigCharts was acquired by MarketWatch and the technology is still used by Dow Jones & Company today. In addition, Jamie has developed and managed products and technologies for properties including Barron’s, Virtual Stock Exchange, Dow Jones Newswires and Dow Jones Indexes. Jamie is excited to leverage his fifteen years of technology industry experience to further Minnestar’s mission of helping to seed innovation in the technology community throughout the Twin Cities and the region.
Robert WeberRob is a founding partner of Great North Labs, an early stage venture fund focused on the Midwest/Great Lakes region. Previously, Rob was CEO and co-founder of NativeX, which was acquired in 2016. In 2006, Rob shared the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award with his twin brother, and business partner, Ryan Weber. Rob was also named to the 2007 Inc. 5,000 CEO’s Under 30 list.
Robert StephensRobert founded Geek Squad in 1994 with $200. In 2002, The Geek Squad acquired Best Buy and opened Geek Squad precincts in all Best Buy US and Canadian stores. Now, with over 25,000 Agents, The Geek Squad is now the world’s largest technology support company offering phone, in-store, and in-home, and online support. In 2010, Robert was appointed as the Chief Technology Officer for Best Buy.
Michael GormanMichael Gorman is a founding Managing Director of Split Rock Partners. He is an active supporter of the local entrepreneurial community, and works closely with organizations providing guidance to emerging companies. In addition, Michael served as president of the Minnesota Venture Capital Association in 2000 and 2001. Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Duke University, as well as MBA and JD degrees from Harvard University.
Ben EdwardsAs designer, developer, entrepreneur, and catalyst, Ben has worked hard to ensure the organizations and communities of which he is a part thrive. Ben started MinneBar as “BarCamp Minnesota” after talking with the founder of BarCamp at a conference in California and later founded Minnestar with Luke Francl. After running the agile software development consulting firm Refactr for several years, Ben co-founded SmartThings—an IoT platform that went from Kickstarter to acquisition by Samsung in two years. These days Ben advises startups and is working to launch Goodfolio—a nonprofit seeking to apply evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to improve the world through social giving.
Luke FranclLuke Francl, founder and community catalyst. Luke has been a professional software developer for over a decade. In that time, he’s worked with nearly every web technology out there (including Tcl). After a brief fling with the crushing poverty of Silicon Valley startup life, he became an independent consultant specializing in building awesome software at exorbitant rates. Luke attended the first MinneBar in 2006, where he met Ben. He started MinneDemo that fall and has been at it ever since.
Joel Crabb has served as Chief Architect for Minnesota’s two largest consumer goods retailers, Target and Best Buy. At Best Buy, Joel led the multiyear project that rebuilt BestBuy.com from scratch as a distributed cloud-based e-commerce platform. At Target, Joel has created the Target Retail Platform, a single unified view of how a retailer can build all its applications to function as a multi-channel entity. Joel has spent most of his working life building large scale software systems for enterprises in and around Minneapolis. He has worked in multiple industries and companies from startup medical devices, power utilities, health insurance, online banking, work force management, rail car commodity trading, online education, long haul trucking logistics, and currently, retail. Joel has a BSEE from Washington University in St. Louis, a MSNE from the University of Wisconsin, and an MBA from the University of Minnesota.
Lifelong career technologist. Founder, Bitmatter, IT consulting.
I enjoy a good point . a thoughtful pause , exciting times ! and a hundred peculiar ways. Love to be surrounded by highly creative creatives. Laughing. Learning. Doing.
Passionate about technology, entrepreneurship, supporting Minnestar community + many more. You’ll find me here and there at many tech events. If you see me, please do say hello.