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For Immediate Release

May 15, 2007


Contact: Julie Fedorchak

(701) 391-1140

 Don Canton or Don Larson

(701) 328-2200


Hoeven Announces Five Innovate ND Award Winners


FARGO, N.D. – Gov. John Hoeven today announced five winners for the first statewide Innovate ND program. A panel of private sector judges made the final selections out of a field of 20 finalists. Winners will receive $5,000 in cash and a valuable package of in-kind services to help them launch their business concept.


“This has been an exciting program because it shows that entrepreneurs are alive and well and hard at work in North Dakota,” Hoeven said. “The future of our state rests in the hands of people like this who have a worthwhile business idea and the desire to build that business dream right here in our state.”


The winning ideas for the Governor’s first Innovate ND program are:


·        Desert Don’s Greenhouse, Minot; Phil Lowe and Don Vitko. Desert Don’s Greenhouse proposes to add a new business line to their current greenhouse operations by marketing selected species of desert plants using eCommerce. Lowe has 40 years of experience in greenhouse production and management. Vitko has 40 years of experience caring for cactus and succulents in a greenhouse environment and has collected over 4,000 species.


·        LifePump Innovations, Fargo; Dr. Dan Ewert, Michael Schmitz, Dale Faust and Mandi Decker. LifePump Innovations builds a computer-controlled pump system that enables heart valves, stents and heart assist devices to be tested using realistic blood pressure and flows within a test chamber. Ewert is a professor and chair of the Electrical Engineering Department at NDSU, and Schmitz is a lead research engineer for Packet Digital, a Fargo technology company. Faust is a 30-year veteran of the aviation industry with broad experience as a pilot, mechanic and business owner; and Decker has a MBA from NDSU and works as an office manager at Concordia College.


·        Ntractive, LLC, Grand Forks; Dale Jensen and Justin Bartak. Ntractive is software designed to automate, organize and improve business processes for small companies with five to 100 employees. Jensen has developed accounting and payroll software and also designed a patented software-based tax form filing solution. Bartak has industry experience leading Aatrix Software’s Information Technology’s group.


·        Tao Interactive, Bismarck; Kevin Leier. Tao Interactive is a software development company catering to small businesses. Their software allows clients to create websites that possess features found in expensive websites at a fraction of the cost. Leier has over 20 years experience with programming and was named one of Bismarck-Mandan Chamber’s Small Business Person of the Year in 1999.


·        Western Ag Labs, LLC, Sherwood; Ron Volk, Ken Greer and Diane Volk. Western Ag Labs is a crop nutrition planning service that uses a new technology to predict nutrient needs for growers enabling them to grow crops more efficiently. Volk has farmed for 25 years using his business management skills in both the private and public arenas. Greer is the current president of Western Ag Labs, the company from which the technology will be licensed.


The awards were presented at a banquet held in conjunction with the second annual Midwest Association of Angel and Venture Capital Conference today in Fargo. Originally, 67 teams including 120 members registered and participated in the program. That field was narrowed to 22 finalists. Two teams dropped out of the final round.


All finalists completed an extensive written summary and made an oral presentation in front of the panel of judges. In selecting winners, judges looked at five criteria: Innovation, commercial viability, investment opportunity, entrepreneur team, and quality of presentation.


Innovate ND was launched in November by the governor and was coordinated by the Governor’s Office, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the UND Center of Innovation and the NDSU Research and Technology Park. Participants paid $100 to enroll in the program. Curriculum was delivered via the internet on podcasts covering a broad list of ideas such as “The Entrepreneurial Mindset,” “The Four Laws of Opportunity,” “Read your Market” and “Finance Your Dream.”


The program was made possible by more than $200,000 in private-sector contributions and in-kind donations. Plans are underway for another program in 2008. Organizers will gather feedback from this year’s participants and make improvements to the program before announcing details for the 2008 Innovate ND competition next fall. To support the program or obtain more information, see www.innovatend.com.


For additional information from the award recipients, contact:


Desert Don's Greenhouse: Don Vitko – 701-240-8985

Ntractive: Dale Jensen – 701-215-0687

Tao Interactive: Kevin Leier – 701-426-9395

Western Ag Labs: Ron Volk – 701-459-2283

LifePump Innovations: Dale Faust – 701-238-5203





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