Minnesota’s startup ecosystem is filled with many driven entrepreneurs, apt investors and passionate founders – including those who are just barely hitting their early 20s.
Despite their young age, these leaders in the local startup scene are advancing their respective fields into the future.
Minne Inno has compiled a list showcasing 10 innovators aged 25 and younger who have already distinguished themselves in Minnesota. The selections range from young venture capitalists to founders, CEOs and small-business owners.
Those on the list were chosen based on nominations received from the community and Minne Inno’s editorial selection process. Their emailed responses to our questions were edited for length, clarity and grammar.
Here are the Inno Under 25 honorees, in alphabetically order by last name:
Josh Chang co-founded Buncha, a Minneapolis-based grocery-delivery app formerly known as Pikup, in 2020. He serves as head of operations for the platform, which has received $3.7 million in fundingsince its founding, according to its website. Chang has been involved in several local startup-centered entities, such as Beta, Launch Minnesota and Techstars.
Why do you do what you do? I enjoy the process of creating new things and making improvements to existing processes and systems. I find this type of work incredibly fulfilling, and doing this alongside my amazing team makes it even more enjoyable.
What is your biggest accomplishment? I’d say my biggest accomplishment has been building my team to the size it is today. Even though our company is still relatively small — less than 50 people — I feel great pride in the journey we’ve made so far. Going from a dorm room with a few guys to having offices in Minneapolis and New Delhi, it’s a clear reminder of our progress.
What excites you about the future? I work with a lot of talented individuals, and I strongly believe we will continue to make great strides over the next few years. We have a lot of huge goals to reach, but I’m eager to see how we make those dreams come true.
What’s the last book you read? “12 Rules for Life,” by Jordan Peterson
Education: University of Minnesota – Twin Cities (1 year)
Volunteer work: Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos
Hobbies: Downhill skiing, golf and piano
Demi George launched her size-inclusive swimsuit line, HeartGlass, in 2020. The business uses chlorine-resistant material and soft fabric, and unlike many other one-piece swimsuits on the market, offers suits with different sized tops and bottoms. George also advises local retailers, startups and fashion brands on business strategy.
Why do you do what you do? Not only is being an entrepreneur a passion, but we need more sizing options in womenswear. How sizing has been set up in ready wear is not proportional to women’s figures and is only based on one shape: It is increasingly bigger all around as it goes up. HeartGlass products are based on all body shapes. Women have been mis-categorized as plus size just for having a larger cup size or bottom size but are, in reality, a size small or medium. Women with these sizing issues can now feel their true self because there is a size that fits their shape with HeartGlass.
What is your biggest accomplishment? Building the foundations of my company to be in a commercialize-able state after earning grant money. Basing the sizing on one mannequin whose form does not fit the average female body shape was out of the picture. I did not follow industry standards; I went to the root problem with women’s fitting issues — the size — to create an innovative solution based around female features rather than just one shape. It took a lot of negotiations, meetings, bold risks and resources that were lived out with confidence and determination.
What excites you about the future? Living a life of abundance and meeting new people in the industry. My business keeps growing and gaining more traction, which I am looking forward to as it is my life venture. I look forward to introducing my brand and products to more people, retailers, and for more collaborations to come. I also look forward to helping more retailers, small businesses, entrepreneurs and others who want to start businesses.
What’s the last book you read? “Fearless,” by Rebecca Minkoff, and a draft of my own book about building HeartGlass
Education: Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication, certificate in entrepreneurship and innovation at Arizona State University
Volunteer work: Mentoring student entrepreneurs and hosting virtual networking mastermind events
Hobbies: Going to restaurants, cooking, cocktail hours, networking, skiing and snowboarding, being at a pool both swimming and laying out
Zach Gust started ZanVos, otherwise known as Lakewood Metal, while in high school. The metal-shop business now has two locations in St. Francis and does all of its own marketing, fabrication work and app development. The entrepreneur also works with many small businesses in the area to help create products for them.
Why do you do what you do? From a young age, I knew I wanted my own businesses. When I was about 5 years old, I was selling origami at my mom’s work for $1. At the age of about eight, I started making custom-fishing rods and was selling them to family and friends. Once I was about 13, I started buying motorcycles, fourwheelers and cars that had been crashed, fixing them up and reselling them for a profit. Then, when I was in high school, I was in shop class and built a plasma table from scratch, and that’s how I started Lakewood Metal. I brought the machine I built to my parents’ shed and started cutting signs and selling them to friends and online. Now, fast forward to today, I have two shops in St. Francis, where we do production work and still produce signs. I enjoy the process of building things from the ground up and seeing things turn out the way you planned.
What is your biggest accomplishment? Building several machines to automate a lot of things in our shop, such as an auto boxer (with the push of a button it can pack the sign, put a shipping label on it, and stack the finished product on a pallet), automated powder line (this is a conveyor system that you can hang a sign on and within five minutes it will be powder-coated and cured through our oven automatically; we can powder about 750 signs an hour).
What excites you about the future? I just bought another building this year that I can move into next year. So, I am excited to expand my current business and start new projects.
What’s the last book you read? I have always learned from forums and just things on the internet. I do not know the last book I have read.
Education: St. Francis High School graduate
Hobbies: Building things is my biggest hobby, but my other hobbies are hunting, ice fishing and wake surfing.
Amiyah Hunter started Luxury Stays, a short-term rental company that lists units on sites like Airbnb, earlier this year to expand upon her interests in travel and interior design. After researching the industry, she decided she wanted to launch the company, offering fully furnished units at an affordable price. So far, Luxury Stays has 11 units across Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Why do you do what you do? I have a huge passion for interior design and traveling. Putting those two together helped Luxury Stays to be the amazing company it is.
What is your biggest accomplishment? My biggest accomplishment is my business model. I started with one short-term rental unit, then within a couple of months I was able to expand my business, and now I have over 10 units.
What excites you about the future? One thing that excites me about the future is owning my own multifamily property.
What’s the last book you read? The last book I read was “Rich Dad Poor Dad.” It showed me the importance of risk-taking.
Education: I am a full-time college student at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul. I am a computer science major and a social justice minor. I plan to graduate in May 2023.
Volunteer work: I have volunteered at numerous after-school programs and elementary schools. I also have a passion for kids.
Hobbies: I am the president of my school’s Black Student Union, and planning cool events on campus is something I really enjoy.
Already a seasoned member of the startup and venture capitalist ecosystem, Sunwoo Lee is a managing partner at Atland Ventures, a venture capital firm run and owned by University of Minnesota undergraduate students. She also is a growth analyst at FNDR, a Venice, Calif.-based consulting firm helping founders. Lee’s previous work included serving as a portfolio support lead for Groove Capital and working at Gen Z VCs, a collective of young venture capitalists.
Why do you do what you do? I desire to truly empathize with those who pursue and find success in an untraditional path for betterment of our society and humanity at-large through entrepreneurship. Atland Ventures gives students an experiential opportunity to learn hands-on while simultaneously investing in startup companies using our leverage of Gen Z perspectives.
What is your biggest accomplishment? I always feel fulfilled being able to leverage my network to introduce peers to internships and job opportunities that lean into their true curiosities and passions at various startups or VC firms.
What excites you about the future? I get incredibly excited knowing how much more I get to learn about humanity, culture, technology, society and the diverse perspectives.
What’s the last book you read? “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” It’s a North Star book of where I currently work (and learn) full-time at FNDR, where we work with founders of some of the world’s biggest companies, including Airbnb and Snap, using the power of narrative to give voice to their vision.
Education: After my second year, I’m currently on a leave of absence from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, where I was studying entrepreneurial management and marketing.I took up a full time offer at a fast-growing “category of one” startup/agency/venture fund.
Volunteer work: I spend my extra time building a community for Korean-American startup founders and venture capitalists. There is an extreme lack of Asian representation within this industry, so I try to make investment introductions especially to and for Asian-founded startups when I can.
Hobbies: Yoga, contemporary art, maximizing credit card perks, and cooking Korean food that will never live up to my mom’s
Jay Louricas is CEO and owner of Agnt Media, a real estate-focused media production company that started in 2021. Initially centered on traditional advertising and web development, the firm pivoted to real estate media, such as photography and videography services, earlier this year. Louricas has an extensive background in business as he was active in University of St. Thomas’s entrepreneurship program, started a couple of other small businesses and worked at venture capital firm Strategic Capital.
Why do you do what you do? It’s fun. I love taking an idea and turning it into a reality. I’ve come to learn that I get more of a thrill from helping other people build their business than I do from building my own. I’m a big believer in the American Dream, and entrepreneurship to me is the gateway to achieving that dream, and that’s why I got into marketing and digital media.
What is your biggest accomplishment? Well, as of the last year, the best thing I’ve helped create is my now 1-year-old daughter. Career-wise, it’s probably been winning the Fowler Business Concept Challenge in 2018, which really kickstarted my career.
What excites you about the future? The opportunity for disruption. Tech is always moving quickly, but I think you’re starting to see a big change in the way people think and a bigger change in the way they want to interact with the brands they love. It’s going to create a lot of opportunities across many industries. I am especially looking forward to the evolution of tech and real estate, and how people buy and sell homes in the next decade or two.
What’s the last book you read? “The Book of Ichigo Ichi,e” by Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia
Education: Entrepreneurship, University of St. Thomas
Volunteer work: I do a good amount of mentoring young entrepreneurs, especially those involved with the University of St. Thomas’s entrepreneurship programs, competitions and accelerators. In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time in Minnesota high schools speaking to students about the realities of addiction and how it impacts families.
Hobbies: I love all things cars and racing. I try to golf as much as I can and travel, although it’s now much harder with a 1-year-old.
Ava Najafi is an analyst at Groove Capital, a Minneapolis-based pre-seed investment firm and angel-investing association, where she talks with founders and invests at early-stage startups. The Minneapolis resident also is vice president of platform at Atland Ventures.
Why do you do what you do? I find that investing in entrepreneurs creating groundbreaking solutions is a way to feel a part of something bigger than yourself. As an investor, you’re actively playing a role in funding ventures that have the potential to help and influence countless individuals and to make a lasting difference.
What is your biggest accomplishment? One of my biggest accomplishments has been having a spot in the room with tremendously talented individuals so early in my career, while contributing my perspective and feeling mutually valued in the conversation. I’ve had countless discussions and made meaningful connections that have proved to be great in not only opening new doors, but also helping me learn invaluable lessons within the entrepreneurial space and in life.
What excites you about the future? I’m excited to see how our generation helps influence change through our unique relationship with technology and passion around spaces such as sustainability. I truly believe that we are already creating lasting change and look forward to seeing our impact become amplified in the very near future.
What’s the last book you read? “The Startup of You,” by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha: It teaches readers how to accelerate their career by applying the strategies needed to become a successful entrepreneur to any job they have or hope to hold.
Education: Currently majoring in entrepreneurial management and finance at the Carlson School of Management (Bachelor of Science)
Volunteer work: In the past, I’ve done a lot of work with the American Cancer Society, including running a local Relay For Life event in my community. To date, I enjoy helping whenever I can to give back to a cause I care so deeply about.
Hobbies: My long-time passion has been playing piano, and I’ve recently picked up running — two great stress relievers in my life. I love spending time with friends and family and always find joy in learning new things.
Anna Pedrick founded her company, Lovelace, in late 2021 through an entrepreneurship course at the University of Minnesota. The company brings together crafting and coding with the goal of boosting girls’ interest in STEM education. Currently, the company hosts workshops to create boards that light up with coding exercises.
Why do you do what you do? For as long as I can remember, my parents wanted me to take interest in STEM, but I never saw myself or my interests in the opportunities presented to me. Unfortunately, my story is not unique, and many girls don’t relate to the way coding is presented to them. Too many of my female peers never explored coding because they weren’t interested in robotics, gaming or sci-fi when, in reality, coding can be so much more than that. I do what I do to show girls that coding is more than what it is stereotyped to be and can align with a lot of their interests.
What is your biggest accomplishment? Receiving my computer science degree. It was the hardest endeavor I have ever tackled. From weekly all-nighters and a great sense of imposter syndrome, I almost constantly doubted my ability to accomplish it. Walking across the stage was truly a momentous occasion because I proved to myself that I was more than capable.
What excites you about the future? Technology affects every aspect of our lives, and when there isn’t diversity in the individuals who are creating it, it can have negative consequences. I truly believe when there is a diversity of thought, experiences and background, it results in the best outcome. There are big challenges we as a society need to solve in the coming years, but it excites me to be a part of bringing diverse individuals to contribute to fixing these problems.
What’s the last book you read? “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.” I am not usually one for fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Education: Computer science and entrepreneurial management degrees at the University of Minnesota
Volunteer work: In college, I spent my free time involved in student government, where we created initiatives to improve students’ experience and well-being.
Hobbies: I am constantly jumping around with various arts and crafts projects (knitting, sewing, scrapbooking, etc.). I also love everything and anything that gets me outside.
Elise Riniker works as an operations associate for both of the Twin Cities-based accelerators by Techstars, a global investment company. Those programs are the ag-tech-focused Farm to Fork Accelerator and the Minnesota Twins Accelerator, centered on sports tech and live entertainment. In addition to this role, Riniker also serves as an intern for Minneapolis-based venture capital firm Bread & Butter Ventures and analyst at Atland Ventures.
Why do you do what you do? I am constantly inspired by the people I have had the privilege of working with and meeting in the venture capital and startup community. It is an honor to work with such driven, passionate individuals on a regular basis. Likewise, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in the startup space thus far, and it is an environment that I have really enjoyed exploring and working within. The relationships I have made with VCs and founders alike make me excited to pursue a full-time career in this ecosystem post-graduation.
What is your biggest accomplishment? My biggest accomplishment has been forming lasting relationships with mentors and peers in the venture capital and startup space. At times, I have found it difficult to form genuine connections in a space that is so heavily based on networking. Thus, I am proud of myself for putting in the effort to create authentic relationships, and that I am able to call many of my mentors and peers my friends.
What excites you about the future? Belonging to a generation that deeply values innovation, inclusion and accountability excites me for the future. The opportunity to see what we do and are capable of in real time is incredibly inspiring and something that makes me proud to be Gen Z. Innovation-wise, I am looking forward to seeing more advancements in the sustainability sector, specifically in food tech and climate tech.
What’s the last book you read? “The Midnight Library,” by Matt Haig
Education: Currently a junior at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities studying marketing, business analytics and strategic management
Volunteer work: I am the tournament director for the annual Tom Burnett Jr. Charity Golf outing. I also recently led a pro-bono consulting team (via Sapphire Consulting) to execute a semester-long project for a local nonprofit, Angel Foundation.
Hobbies: I enjoy exploring the Twin Cities, going to concerts, dancing (casually), reading, learning about Greek mythology, and running.
Sabrina Rucker started her company, StoryForge, during the summer of 2021. StoryForge is an app connecting underrepresented authors with support, editing and help with growth so that they can get published. She pitched the app earlier this year to the University of Minnesota’s BizPitch competition, winning the Social Impact Award. Rucker previously started another business called WinterWhittler, where she sold basswood carvings of penguins. She secured second place for the carving business in the Minnesota chapter of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in 2021.
Why do you do what you do? I think the best way to improve the world is by lifting others up. For me, that means creating a business to address systematic inequality in publishing.
What is your biggest accomplishment? Running a marathon. At the start of 2021, I had crippling anemia. It was so hard to breathe that I was missing events and tests — I even lost a job opportunity. At the end of 2021, after nine months of iron supplements and conditioning, I ran my first marathon. When I think about where I started, and how hard I worked for it, that remains my proudest accomplishment.
What excites you about the future? I get excited thinking about all the things I’ve never tried. Each new experience ends up leading me to paths I never expected. The trick is being open to the unpredictability — that’s entrepreneurship.
What’s the last book you read? “This Poison Heart,” by Kalynn Bayron
Education: After high school, I studied cybersecurity in Scotland and Maryland before settling at the University of Minnesota. I’ll graduate this winter with a bachelor’s in history and a minor in product design.
Hobbies: Marathon runner, harpist, lockpicker, blacksmith, sword fighter, language learner
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Minnesota’s startup ecosystem is filled with many driven entrepreneurs, apt investors and passionate founders – including those who are just barely hitting their early 20s.