St. Paul entrepreneur’s lease app among Carlson School’s MN Cup 89 semi-finalists for start-up competition

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At a time when many housing advocates are focused on stabilizing renters in precarious living situations, Abu Nayeem is thinking differently. His new web-based service,, aims to help renters evaluate themselves — by credit history, by criminal history and more — so they understand their own red flags and can better negotiate new leases in even better apartments.

“We hear about housing stability, which means you can only afford your current home,” said Nayeem, a co-founder and chief executive officer of the web start-up Pre-Lease SBC, which is based in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood. “We want to create mobility for renters.”

For the second year in a row, has caught the attention of the MN Cup, a statewide start-up competition hosted for the past 19 years by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, as have a host of other east metro companies just beginning to get off the ground.

Nearly 90 semi-finalists, or top finishers in nine divisions, were announced Wednesday, and founders from each company will meet with professional mentors this summer as they work on investor pitches, business plan summaries, video presentations and more in advance of a public showcase at the U of M on Sept. 18.

At the showcase, 18 finalists — two in each division — will share more than $400,000 in cash prizes. The nine divisions include new companies in the fields of education and training, energy/water and clean technology, food and agriculture, life science and health information technology, general, high tech, social impact ventures, youth services and student-driven start-ups.

To get the summer rolling, a public reception for semi-finalists will be held at the Carlson School on June 7.

Of the new start-ups, 17 are based in Ramsey County, including 10 from St. Paul. Others hail from across the state.


Among the 89 semi-finalists:

• A small town father-and-son team dubbing themselves “The Booze Brothers” ( sell whiskey glass smoking kits, custom glasses, shot glasses and butane torches. matches families with personal caregivers, as well as other types of assistants who can help with home maintenance, errands, shopping and transportation coordination. uses artificial intelligence to curate news stories about the stock market by monitoring both professional news sites and social media. offers a one-stop platform where filmmakers can pay cast, crew and vendors online.

• De-An Chen, a St. Paul resident and seventh grader at Yinghua Academy in Minneapolis, has created, a website that teaches global geography and related facts, such as how to identify national flags using interactive gaming. offers custom logs-to-lumber milling services.

• Grand Anar ( uses cloud-based data storage software to index and streamline business-to-business transactions for manufacturers and distributors. sells a speculum that parents can use, in conjunction with an app-based artificial intelligence platform, to diagnose their children’s ear pain.


Kailin Oliver, associate director of MN Cup, said applications to participate totaled 3,052 this year, up 17% from the year before, the largest one-year increase in the competition’s history.

“This is the most we’ve ever gotten,” she said, noting 31% of applications came from Greater Minnesota. About 38% of prospective participants were non-white and 43% were female.

At Pre-Lease, Nayeem and fellow co-founder Zachary Hurdle are still in the early stages of rolling out online and phone-based services for renters and landlords alike, including providing an online space where tenants can store rental documents such as receipts from monthly lease payments. That’s a potential strategy toward convincing a future landlord to ignore an eviction on record from years past or an equally troublesome credit blemish. also offers links to public assistance, legal aid and housing searches.

A five-minute online survey on the website offers a “rental health check,” quickly allowing prospective tenants to understand what might concern a future landlord. A free report and potential phone consultation includes recommendations that aim to make renters appear more attractive on paper. Part of the goal is to educate renters and landlords about their rights and responsibilities — as well as services available — before problems arise, instead of after.

“If you’re looking for a place, if you’re having trouble, how can we figure out what you want, where you want to live and what is your screening health?” Nayeem said. “We’re trying to distinguish ourselves. There’s a lot of housing support services. But renters need support before a rental emergency. If you talk to case managers, it’s hard to address anything in an emergency.”

The MN Cup, a program of Carlson School’s Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, was founded in 2005 by entrepreneurs Dan Mallin and Scott Litman in partnership with the University of Minnesota.

Since its inaugural season, it’s given away more than $5 million in seed funds. The MN Cup will be hosting all the semifinalists at the Carlson School on June 7 for a reception, and the public is invited to attend. More information is online at

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