App to tackle loneliness: Working out of what once was the ballroom in Sinclair Lewis’ Duluth home, MC-Cubed’s staff develops new technology

DULUTH –This is what the 4 p.m. meeting looks like at MC-Cubed, one of Duluth’s newest startups and the only one that has its headquarters in the top-floor ballroom of the home once owned by author Sinclair Lewis:

Trace Drechsler, the product design engineer, and Cole Fisher, the HR director, are sitting at a rectangular table in a part of the room called The Box, Drechsler working at a laptop, Fisher taking notes.

Darren Shuster, the PR guy from Los Angeles — in for the week — is leaning back in a chair at a round table to the side, encouraging the others to take slices of pie from two boxes of Pizza Luce.

Nathan Lipinski, the 25-year-old CEO, passes through, smartphone in hand. All are in stocking feet — house rules. Most of the 12-person crew has not arrived. Some still are in classes at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Franklin the dog wanders in and out.

It’s an unconventional staff meeting in an unconventional space that’s the heart of an unconventional — at least by Duluth standards — company. To an outsider, it’s difficult to see what is work and what is play.

“This is exactly what startups look like in Silicon Valley,” says Shuster, whose company is called Pop Culture PR. “Colorful, fun and designed to express creativity and a work-lifestyle balance. And no cubicles.”

Lipinski, from Zimmerman, Minn., has appeared in these pages before, for his development of StarShip, a device that can determine if shipped items such as vaccines are at the proper temperature. As a first-year medical student two years ago, he won the UMD Shark Tank competition with the gizmo, which MC-Cubed still is in the process of developing.

But Shuster was brought in — at his instigation — to help market MC-Cubed’s new product, a social media app called Platonic that, as the name suggests, is about friendship, not dating.

“Dating apps are for dating,” Lipinski said earlier this week. “Facebook is for friends you already have. And Twitter is for people who don’t have anybody to text to. So, we wanted to create this activity-driven platform.”

Already being marketed to the 18-34-year-old demographic, Platonic will be available in the app store by May 1, said Lipinski, who is taking a year off from medical school to develop it and his company.

It works like this:

The user clicks on to the Platonic app and can choose between two broad categories: active or social. Each has four subcategories — outdoor, crafts and hobbies, workout and team sports for “active” and nightlife, food and drink, games and movies and sightseeing for “social.”

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