The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journalhas named its inaugural class of Eureka! award winners to recognize ground-breaking innovation at companies and nonprofits in the greater Twin Cities across a wide variety of industries. There are 23 honorees, from about 100 nominations, two of which are St. Thomas-affiliated organizations.

Garden Fresh Farms

The future of farming is to bring the farm closer to the consumer. Garden Fresh Farms has developed an indoor agriculture model that increases access to healthy food, reduces transportation costs and provides natural food without pesticides. They use less water and land use is reduced 100% while bringing jobs to old warehouse buildings.

“Our patent pending systems and methods are compact, using a smaller footprint and ability to correctly scale the amount of light we feed each plant. We also use far less water than traditional farming,” wrote Dave Roeser, the company’s president. “Our Orbiting Garden revolves around a single light source with four times the growing surface or other indoor agriculture systems. In this apparatus we use 75% less energy. In our Lettuce Factory we can harvest 538,000 plants per year in less than 5,000 sq ft.”

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“Garden Fresh Farms is the most innovative, sustainable approach to indoor hydroponic and aquaponic agriculture on the market,” said Michael P. Moore, director of UST’s William C. Norris Institute. “The Norris Institute was proud to join the small group of initial investors who made it possible to launch the first farms that will serve as models for national and international expansion.”

The business model benefits the community in many ways. “Our farms revive old buildings, paying owners and cities more revenue,” said Roeser. “Farm investors enjoy steady returns and less risk than traditional outdoor farming.”

Currently Garden Fresh Farms has more demand than product. They service grocery stores like Whole Foods, corporate dining, restaurants, schools and soon hospitals. “We are in talks to build farms in Detroit, Chicago and Boston,” said Roeser.

The Social Lights

The Social Lights, LLC is a social media marketing agency based in Minneapolis. The Social Lights was founded in January 2011 by Emily Pritchard and Martha McCarthy during their final semester at the University of St. Thomas – while both were studying entrepreneurship and business communications. “We’re a women-owned boutique agency staying true to what we do best – social media strategy, training, and community management,” they note.

The Social Lights take innovative approaches to serve their clients. “Sometimes we need to invent something new,” wrote McCarthy and Pritchard in their nomination. “It was in this vein that we established the Traveling Community Manager position and the first-ever Community Manager Training Program.”

They spend no advertising dollars (with the exception of event marketing). Instead, business is driven by word-of-mouth referrals and clients that continually recommend their work, and the implementation of their own social media strategies.

Over the past three years, The Social Lights have helped more than 30 companies craft social media in a way that ensures delivery of the right message, at the right time—leaving a lasting brand impression on their loyal fans and followers. They were approached by a restaurant client looking to rebuild their social media presence and leverage their branded channels as key communication tools. The Social Lights were able to optimize social media channels across all 27 franchise locations and coordinate an ongoing content management system.

“This Social Lights are deserving of this exciting award,” said Alec Johnson, associate professor of entrepreneurship. “Their innovation and success with the traveling community manager position and community manager training program represents a long-awaited and much needed maturation of the industry.”


A team of judges knowledgeable in entrepreneurialism and innovation, including Business Journal Editor Dirk DeYoung, selected the honorees. The awards will be handed out at a Eureka! Awards Cocktail Reception June 12, and you can read more about these Minnesota businesses and their innovations in the June 13 edition of the Business Journal.