Recently, Audiofile, a digital music application developer founded in the Twin Cities, was acquired by Lake County-based business Krekeltronics and will be moving its operations to the area.
Krekeltronics itself is relatively new to the area after founder Patrick Krekelberg moved his family from St. Paul to just outside Two Harbors and based his product development firm here because as a digital development company, he could work from anywhere. He and his family were living in St. Paul, but viewing himself as a horticulturalist and a conservationist, Krekelberg wanted to live in a more rural setting and Lake County offered something that other rural settings don't, broadband internet availability.
"The reason the company is moving to Two Harbors is because we are, but there are some benefits to the company as well," he said. "The fact that fiber exists up here and we can have a faster connection than those in the Cities, and that we're in a cabin that a few years ago may not have had power, now has fiber."
Krekelberg was working in product development while living in St. Paul with his wife and family, but he always felt pulled to the natural landscape offered by northern Minnesota. Krekeltronics started as an "inside joke" between Krekelberg and his friends that one day he would start the company and "go live in the woods."
"My background is in electrical engineering and a clear understanding of software," he said. "I was traveling to the Apple conference every year and they'd have to deal with some hardware problem and people have an understanding of hardware and how to work with software applications seem to be rare. So I thought we should make a company that can do that, building applications with an understanding of hardware."
Krekeltronics latest product is the Luna Display, a plugin device that will turn any iPad into a wireless secondary display for a Mac computer. The product launched with a 60-day Kickstarter campaign Aug. 23 and a goal of raising $30,000. However, in the week since launch the campaign more than 4,500 backers and more than $368,000 pledged for the device.
Krekelberg has been a regular visitor to the North Shore since he was a child and he would come to Two Harbors because his great uncle, Ray Korteum, owned Ray's Bait Shop. Later, Krekelberg met his wife while she was attending the College of St. Scholastica and he was playing in a punk rock band that stopped in Duluth a few times a year. After founding Krekeltronics, Krekelberg first looked to Duluth for collaborators and found Eric Watson working in the Technology Village. Today, Watson is one of the company's senior engineers, but Krekeltronics has numerous other engineers working remotely around the U.S. and even internationally.
"One of the social experiments of this is to see how productive a completely distributed company can be provided there is a strong core," Krekelberg said. "Especially because we are dealing with hardware, which is a physical thing that you hold in your hand when there is a problem. So we look to see where are the experts and can we find a way to make that work."
Krekelberg's love of making music also led him to partner with St. Paul-based Audiofile, a technology company creating apps and products with musicians in mind. Audiofile's products include "Fidelia," high-fidelity music player app, and "Audiofile Calc," a calculator tailored to audio engineers.
Krekelberg, an accomplished guitarist, said his background and passion for making music dovetailed perfectly with what Audiofile is trying to accomplish. The company has set up shop in a solar powered cabin outside Two Harbors and is already in reaching out to local musicians like Tim Kaiser and Gaelyn Lea about potential collaborations.
"We are building things that (musical artists) use, so we need to have a recording facility to test those things," Krekelberg said. "It isn't really intended for people to come in and record, but that really is the dream for me. Because we are doing cutting edge things with studio equipment it would make sense to collaborate with artists...our plan is what if we could get really close in with them and maybe they could recommend a feature or something that they could use. Then we could build it for them in a way that they can use it and create a profile or video on them using it either in our studio or out on their own on tour."
The arrival of Krekeltronics and Audiofile and other businesses in Lake County is a major reason Lake Connections, Lake County's municipal broadband project, was built. The project began in 2010 when the county was awarded $66 million in loans and grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and over three years more than 1,200 miles of a fiber network was built throughout Lake County and parts of eastern St. Louis County.
"One of the things we talk about as a board early on in this process is exactly what these companies have shown us," Lake County Commissioner Rich Sve said. "You can work in rural Lake County, about as rural as you get, and still have that access to state-of-the-art broadband to promote and do the work nationwide, worldwide."
The fiber optic network gave Krekelberg the opportunity to move his family away from the urban lifestyle in St. Paul and take advantage of all the North Shore has to offer, from the Superior Hiking Trail to working with local artists.
"It's a cool aspect of the story, the combination of high technology in this very primitive area and having that be somewhere that we can experiment with sustainability, with new materials and also a place for a business to operate and succeed," he said. "I know it sounds kind of silly, but there is no way we could do this without the decision to do Lake Connections. That someone had the vision to run fiber to all of these places, it's just amazing."