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3Ring's Entrepreneurial Path

Post from Brittany Gilbertson, BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota, The Innovation Engine

3Ring is a current contender in the 2013 Minnesota Cup having recently advanced to the finalist round. 3Ring seeks to close the achievement gaps in science and reduce beginning teacher turnover by supporting teacher lesson planning and instruction. This innovative new nonprofit is the brainchild of a former teacher Joel Donna, who is now founder, president and CEO of 3Ring.

Donna said the idea had been floating around in the co-founders' minds for a number of years particularly because of Donna's six year career as a high school science teacher. "I loved the experience of teaching, but I found lesson planning complex, time-consuming and overwhelming," said Donna. "I was fresh out of college, managing all levels of learners, and no one else in my school taught physics." After graduate school, Donna began work with co-founders Sarah Hick and Lee Carmichael to develop an online tool that was both a lesson planning and reform-based curriculum resource.

After the decision to launch the tool as a nonprofit, Donna enrolled in The Kauffman Foundation's FastTrac® TechVenture™ class, being offered by The Innovation Engine, with the anticipation that he would be handed a step-by-step guide to writing a business plan. He was surprised to discover the class was less formulaic than expected and afforded numerous interactions with the facilitator, guest speaker and other attendees.

Thinking through aspects of the business and getting lots of feedback on their plan helped 3Ring solidify the positioning and investor strategy that worked best for them. "I discovered that when you're starting an entrepreneurial endeavor there is no single guide. The interactive nature and critical thinking were exactly what we needed to figure out how to scale and grow," said Donna.

While Donna was still taking the FastTrac® course, 3Ring entered the Social Division of the 2013 Minnesota Cup new business competition. The course helped Donna understand the requirements for the various submission materials as well as put him in touch with knowledgeable business people who could provide feedback. "It was just tremendous timing that the information from the course was not just theoretical, but put to use right away," said Donna. "I'm so thankful to the facilitator Randy Olson, The Innovation Engine and Kauffman for putting this on."

Donna also expressed his hope and determination to see 3Ring advance to the Final Round of the Minnesota Cup where they would present to local philanthropic leaders and receive their feedback on the business plan and investor presentation. Competing in the Minnesota Cup had already increased the visibility of the organization, and moving into the final round would further raise their profile. He summarized the importance of the FastTrac® class saying it had shown him ways to sustain, grow, and scale the organization and translate his aspirations into a solid investor pitch. On August 19th Donna, Hick and Carmichael learned they had earned a coveted presentation slot and a right to call 3Ring a finalist in the 2013 Minnesota Cup. Finalists will present to the Division Review Boards on August 27th, bringing them one step closer to the grand prize.

To learn more about 3Ring visit or follow @3ringdotorg. For further information contact

To find out how FastTrac® TechVenture™ can prepare your business idea for success visit or follow @innov8engine. Registration is still open for the next round of classes beginning September 5th in Minneapolis and September 11th in Rochester. For further information contact

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