Shoreview tech matchmaker receives award


Ali Farnsworth, CEO of Technology Solutions Group, sometimes meet clients in her office downtown where young entrepreneurs have small offices along with a shared coffee area, comfortable lounges and larger meeting rooms.

Considered one of the rising young leaders in technology in the Twin Cities, Alexandra “Ali” Farnsworth, a 1995 Mounds View High School graduate, recently received an Innovation in Technology Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners for her work connecting small information-technology businesses to relevant projects via her savvy sales representatives. It’s widely regarded as an effective new sales concept.

Four years ago after earning her MBA at Bethel University, Farnsworth started her company, Technology Solutions Group, to help small- and medium-sized technology companies that often could not afford a full-time sales rep and frequently didn’t have the know-how or the interest in sales.

These companies might have brilliant ideas but needed help marketing them, she says, adding, “Ultimately, sales makes the world go round.”

She and TSG’s reps hold face-to-face meetings with prospective clients. “People want to talk to each other nowadays — it’s a novelty; a lost art — but it’s so much more effective,” she says, adding that she personally holds four to seven meetings a day talking to people about their tech businesses.

She works to get inside the minds of the company founders to make sure TSG is presenting their businesses correctly and then goes out to “evangelize their brands” with digital presentations and conversations. To meet prospective clients, she goes to coffees, happy hours, lunches — any place she can network. As a result, she knows a lot of people.

“Luckily, I like it-it’s social,” says Farnsworth, a long-time Shoreview resident. “A lot of people [in technology] would rather crawl under a rock than go out to evangelize their brand.”

She serves at least 16 local tech companies and has a waiting list.

She says she discovered she had an aptitude for sales when she was doing internships at Medtronic and General Mills through the University of Wisconsin-River Falls several years ago as an undergrad.

 

Community spirit ...

Entrepreneur Ali Farnsworth of Shoreview believes in giving back to her community and tries to teach her kids to do so, as well. 

She has been heavily involved in the Slice of Shoreview committee for over five years, and includes her daughter, Lexi, 7, and son, Christian, 11, in her volunteer work. 

From their involvement, she says her kids have learned a lot about the importance of community service.

“Besides, it’s a nice family event to take the kids,” she says.

Farnsworth and her kids also volunteer monthly in other ways, such as helping with Feed My Starving Children or picking up trash in the local parks.

“They need to pitch in and not sit back and wait for someone else to do these things,” she explains.

Challenging times

During the 2008 housing crisis, Farnsworth owned a mortgage company. It turned out to be unfortunate timing - the recession was deepening, people were reluctant to buy houses and laws were changing — but she learned a lot and it tempered her, she says.

“Many times people ask me how I was brave enough to start my own company and go out on my own, she says.  “I figure, what’s the worst that could happen?  

“I learned from experience that the sky won’t fall. In fact, the risk of not venturing out is a consideration,” she explains.

“It changed how I look at the world,” she says.

She enrolled in the MBA program at Bethel University. Around the same time, she learned of her husband’s drug addiction. That led to a divorce and she became the single parent of two young children. Still, she says she plugged along, working full-time and staying up at night writing papers instead of stressing about these setbacks in her life. 

She figured the MBA would eventually put her in a better spot to provide for her kids.  And it did.

Following graduation, she worked for a mobile app company, but she wanted more. So armed with a business plan she developed for a new company, TSG, she resigned from the mobile app company and asked it to be her first customer, which it did.

 

Growing her business

Since then, TSG has grown by leaps and bounds and now produces more than $30 million in projects each year for its vendor partners in areas such as drone technology, business intelligence and the Internet of Things (aka IoT).

“We love working with Ali and her team,” says Ron Noden from Lifescale Analytics.  “They are an alternative to the traditional sales force and spend the time to really understand what we do. ... They connect us to the organizations that need us most and then help nurture that connection, allowing us more time on solving client problems instead of looking for new clients. We work with enterprise-level companies on complex problems, and they have been great at helping us connect with those companies.”

“What I love most about TSG is that what they do actually works!” he adds. 

TSG recently gained WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) certification for women and minority-owned businesses, a rigorous process that is important because many companies have quotas for hiring women or minority-owned businesses.

Farnsworth explains there aren’t a lot of female entrepreneurs in technology, and in the two months they’ve had the certification, they’ve had “an explosion in demand for their vendor services” from some high-profile Minnesota companies. 

At first, she was reluctant to apply for the certification, fearing people would think she only got a new contract because she was a woman. But in the last few years she had already proved herself to be capable, and business associates encouraged her to apply.

Farnsworth says her technology project matchmaking business is growing because there’s a high demand for what she calls her “sales-as-service” assistance (the “new SaaS”). Her company is also expanding into Southern California and Silicon Valley. In five years she hopes to expand to more cities and to have 100 reps around the country.

“What excites me the most is how we help tech start-ups get off the ground — it’s like being a true catalyst [in the local marketplace and economy] to do this with local companies of $1 to $30 million in size.

“I hope that ahead are golden times, and the bad times are behind me,” she says.

 

Pamela O’Meara can be reached at pomeara@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7818.

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