Governors and their administrations are uniquely equipped to elevate and advance important issues.
Last year, I saw this firsthand while traveling to Nashville with Danielle Steer of Lunar Startups. The State of Tennessee – through its Launch Tennessee effort – was hosting the 36/86 Festival, connecting networks of Tennesseean entrepreneurs, investors, and collaborators with each other and actors from throughout the country.
Few folks in Tennessee (except maybe Tim McGraw and Faith Hill) have the bully pulpit of the Governor. So, it was particularly important that then-Governor Bill Haslam and both candidates running to succeed him prioritized the festival and addressed its attendees with impressive support and nuance.
Tennessee set a vision to become the nation’s most startup-friendly state. While that may be a tall order, in both Nashville and nearby Chattanooga I experienced communities united by major ambition and pride in their momentum.
While Tennessee’s entrepreneurs aren’t waiting for the state to solve their problems, entrepreneurship is a tough road. It’s tougher still if you lack social capital, connectivity to investors, customers, expert talent, and support from a broader community from your family and friends to your local leaders. The state of Tennessee stepped up to play the role of educator, connector and amplifier.
On most measures, a state like Minnesota can claim leadership far ahead of one like Tennessee. After all, Minnesotans start and scale great businesses, including 50 Fortune 500 companies. Minnesota boasts the highest business survival rates, and its people invented everything from thermostats to pacemakers and supercomputers to Post-It notes. On most numbers, we come out ahead.
Yet, consider that despite those abilities Minnesota still experiences some of the greatest disparities by race. On top of that, history indicates that Minnesota’s contributions to the Fortune 500 list will look quite different a decade from now. Technology is transforming major local industries, from retail and agriculture to health care and finance.
These realities demand urgency. Fortunately, Minnesota’s chief executive and its leader of employment and economic development share a sense of urgency. Governor Tim Walz and Commissioner Steve Grove have immediately used their own bully pulpit to elevate entrepreneurship as a top priority.
This priority is grounded in the knowledge that entrepreneurship is a pathway to generational wealth, has long been the engine of our state’s prosperity, and requires greater intentionality to include entrepreneurs, investors, and collaborators who represent the true diversity of our state.
This push to elevate entrepreneurship is being referred to as the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative, a package that includes grants, education and outreach, reinstatement of the angel tax credit, and more. Each program element is worthy of deeper discussion. But pulling up, this push should be viewed as more than the sum of its parts. It represents a bigger idea – that the state should be at the table.
The state’s role will look different in a state like Minnesota than it might in one like Tennessee. (For example, we already have our own high-profile entrepreneurial festivals like Twin Cities Startup Week.) We boast other unique assets, like our high concentration of headquarters, top-rated amenities, an incredible collection of support organizations, a top tier research university, and most notably, top talent.
Our vibrant ecosystem will evolve regardless of state intervention. But consider the wind we could add to our sails. The administration’s proposal provides a tremendous opportunity to speak with a greater collective voice at the state Capitol, to invite others to the table, and learn from each other. It is consistent with the spirit of collaboration and operating principles that guide the Forge North coalition.
Think about all the voices, ideas, and experiences on the sidelines. And consider what you might do to help. Here are three things that Commissioner Grove recommends if you would like to take action in support of the state’s proposals:
- Find every opportunity you can to share the idea publicly – at events, online, social media, with the press, email newsletters, etc. On social, please use the hashtag #mnleg (which is broadly used for any legislation being debate in session right now).
- Help DEED convene – if you have ideas for events or venues that we should be at to talk about this idea, let the Department know
- Call your legislators and tell them how important this is. Find out who represents you here.
Matt Lewis is the Director of Make It. MSP. at the GREATER MSP Partnership and a partner in the Forge North coalition.