Photos by J. Alan Paul
Thirteen up-and-coming Fargo businesses give us a look at what they’re doing and tell us why they chose to start their companies here.
Check out part two below with COR Robotics’ Ryan Swanson, ConnectLabs’ Brian Larry, ND Tough Gear’s Mallory Vorwerk, Dakota Fine Art’s Meg Spielman Peldo, Go/Do’s Cindy Gillund, Inspire Health & Wellness Spa’s Amanda Brunelle, PLM Family Law’s Shannon Parvey, Jason McLean and Kimberlie Larson.
Ryan Swanson: Spirited. Emerging. Interconnected.
Founder and Co-Owner, COR Robotics
“Fargo has an extremely prominent and active entrepreneurial community, which opens up so many opportunities for a young startup like COR Robotics. Fargo is the perfect place to start a small business because if you stick around long enough, you’re going to meet somebody who knows somebody who can help you.”
COR Robotics aims to educate and inspire the next generation of problem-solvers through summer robotics camps, run in coordination with FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams.
“There are 3,500 FRC teams around the world, and many of them, especially in rural areas, have no robotics programming offered before high school,” says COR Robotics Founder Ryan Swanson. “COR Robotics is helping to address this problem by running inexpensive summer robotics camps that serve as a primer for pre-high school robotics programs to start in a district.”
COR Robotics is the only company in the Upper Midwest working specifically with FRC teams to run summer robotics camps. This connection with FRC teams enables COR to grow much more quickly, while also enabling COR Robotics’ camps to be more exciting and successful, Swanson says.
Brian Larry: Community. Community. Community.
“I chose to start my business in Downtown Fargo because of how strong the tech space is down there. Fargo has a strong community that supports local businesses, and that is powerful as a local startup.”
For Brian Larry, context is everything in marketing.
“Marketers need to understand why consumers go where they go,” says Larry, cofounder of ConnectLabs, a Fargo-based community-of-things (COT) platform that allows businesses to use physical devices with embedded sensors, proprietary software and interconnectivity to connect them to their target customers. “The local events and activities we choose to engage in deliver that context, providing insight into their lifestyles, interests and affinities.”
Larry says he and his team first saw an opportunity after recognizing the effect that mobile, location-based marketing was having on the marketing and analytics industry, which is currently poised to surpass $55 billion.
Larry says successful location-based marketing goes beyond simply knowing where consumers are at, though; it requires context and quality underlying data. That’s why ConnectLabs built the first-ever demographic target system, or DTS, to better understand consumers and deliver the most conclusive consumer audiences, insights and data possible.
Mallory Vorwerk: Community. Generosity. Grit.
Owner, ND TOUGH gear
“The Fargo community shows it’s tough in many ways. Whether it’s fighting a flood or just looking out for each other, the community embodies the giving-back mentality of people in North Dakota.”
ND TOUGH gear creates affordable clothing, mugs and hats with logos designed by Founder Mallory Vorwerk. Nearly all the proceeds are donated back to local schools, charities, and AO1, the foundation of current Philadelphia Eagles and former North Dakota State Univeristy Bison quarterback Carson Wentz.
“When I started the company, I knew I wanted to give back to AO1,” says Vorwerk, who initially had the idea for the company name while watching a Monday Night Football game last year that featured Wentz. “I had the honor of attending his AO1 Foundation fundraiser last year here in Fargo and to hear his passion for helping others and giving back just reinforced my love for him as not only a football player but as a good guy who represents everything that is ND TOUGH gear.”
Meg Spielman Peldo: Beauty. Creativity. Energy.
Cofounder, Dakota Fine Art
“The art market in Fargo is in an upswing. People here value authentic surroundings that uplift and ground them. They care about supporting local, whether it’s farm-to-table dining or making connections with regional art makers to enhance their home and business environments.”
Dakota Fine Art is a collective of nine local and regional artists who own and run the gallery space together. They also represent other artists on a rotating basis, constantly providing fresh work.
“Our goal is to provide a beautiful space that brings art buyers directly together with art and artists,” says Meg Spielman Peldo, one of the founding artists of the collective. “We all have working studios in addition to the boutique gallery, so you can view more work by each artist in a portfolio or even commission someone to create just for you.”
Traditional galleries can find it difficult to make the numbers work, and a collective business model makes it easier because the owners are the artists. They also have the ability to work with designers in an affordable way.
“We love the creative energy in Downtown Fargo and look forward to bringing buyers together with meaningful art that doesn’t lose your interest when the next decorating trend comes along,” Spielman Peldo says.
Cindy Gillund: Energy. Family. Community.
Founder and CEO, Go/Do
If you’ve ever pulled up social media on a Sunday night only to realize you’ve missed an event that you or your family would’ve loved, then you know all about FOMO, or fear of missing out. Instead of exhausting yourself scouring websites or trying to keep track of paper calendars, though, the Go/Do app provides you with hundreds of area events and resources right at your fingertips.
“The Go/Do app fills the gap left by social media algorithms and advertising-based web searches,” explains Founder and CEO Cindy Gillund. “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, are distracted by heavy advertising, or are overwhelmed by too much non-pertinent information, we provide an easy, concise and actionable way to find your desired options.”
Gillund says she and her team identified that the local community was in need of a new medium that can bring together everything going on in Fargo in a unique way.
“The top three — and still fastest-growing — consumer segments in the Fargo area are composed of people ages 28-37, many with children,” says Gillund, a working mother of three herself and whose team worked with local mobile development company Myriad Mobile to create Go/Do. “We found these segments value life experiences and utilize mobile technology to be informed consumers.”
On the commercial side, to be part of Go/Do, area businesses can sign up for a monthly subscription, which provides extra features to drive consumer engagement and provides valuable information about the reach and utilization of the app.
Amanda Brunelle: Support. Need. Opportunity.
Owner, Inspire Health & Wellness Spa
“Fargo was ready and waiting for a unique, all-encompassing healing space like Inspire.”
Whether you’re looking to relieve some work-related stress or need some treatment for that poor posture your office desk is giving you, there aren’t any other places like Inspire Health & Wellness in Fargo.
A new kind of one-stop shop spa concept, Inspire is home to FMWF’s only Himalayan salt cave, which simulates the microclimate of a natural salt cave by pumping salted air into a room; the area’s largest float tank, a sensory-deprivation pod that is supposed to have numerous health benefits; and a number of unique yoga offerings, including salty yoga.
“I wanted to create a place like no other in town,” says Owner Amanda Brunelle. “There is no other place in town that offers all the services we do under one roof.”
Shannon Parvey, Jason McLean and Kimberlie Larson: Friendly. Family. Home.
Partners, PLM Family Law
“One of our partners was born and raised here; the other two have been here for more than a decade building their lives and careers. We like to call Fargo ‘The Biggest Small Town in America.’ To us, that means that while Fargo has a large population, with many awesome big-city attributes, it still has a small-town Midwestern feel, too.”
PLM Family Law is a three-attorney family law firm in Fargo majority-owned by women. They practice exclusively in family law, which Partner Kimberlie Larson acknowledges can be challenging and stressful but also ultimately incredibly rewarding.
“Sometimes, people meet us because they’re going through the worst experience of their lives,” says Larson, who adds that PLM also does estate planning. “Other times, though, they’re expanding their families through adoption. Knowing that we play a role in carrying them through their changes is fulfilling work.”
For the PLM team, starting a business meant the freedom to make their own choices about what kind of image they want to project for the legal profession, says Partner Jason McLean.
“We’re able to help people from all walks of life, with all different kinds of issues, from low-income to high-net-worth clients,” he says. “There’s a great need for compassion and empathy in this line of work, no matter your situation. That can really get lost in a larger law firm.
“Our motto is: We are people first, attorneys second. It takes a special kind of devotion and caring to practice family law.”
Emily Swedberg: Arts appreciation. Growth. Accessibility.
Founder, Amped School of Music
“In the last handful of years, we’ve watched the FM music scene grow in diversity and size. More and more venues seem to be popping up, from breweries like Junkyard and Drekker to large spaces like Bluestem and the Sanctuary. Fargoans’ interest in seeing live music is growing, as is the interest in participation.”
Calling all musicians and music teachers: There’s about to be a whole new way to learn, practice and enjoy the art of making music right in the heart of Downtown Fargo.
Starting this month, as part of a new shared space with local custom-guitar shop Gruber Guitars, Amped School of Music will begin giving lessons and renting out rooms to local music teachers. Don’t expect your typical teaching environment, though, says Founder Emily Swedberg.
“We’re more than just a couple of lesson rooms added to a music store,” says Swedberg, who’s the fiancée of Gruber Guitars owner Nik Gruber (pictured above). “We’re building a music community aiming to empower, connect and celebrate musicians. Nik’s greatest growth as a musician came while learning how to play with other people. Finding these opportunities for students, even through occasional group or joint lessons, pushes music beyond the half-hour, once-a-week mentality.”
In addition to allowing teachers to set their own rate, Amped will provide an online portal to help keep track of students and will handle finding, booking and billing them.