Q&A on the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative

by Jessica Berg (MN Cup) and Adam Choe (Gener8tor)

As partners in Forge North, we’re part of a broader movement of entrepreneurs, investors, makers, collaborators, and allies from all industries and sectors working together to make Minnesota the problem-solving capital of the new economy.

And as leaders of entrepreneurial support organizations, we’re familiar with the challenges faced by founders seeking to start new ventures, and believe to truly move the needle, we need to step outside our traditional silos to achieve our mission.

We had the opportunity to connect with Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove to talk more about the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative (MIC) included in Governor Walz’s proposed budget.

Jessica Berg & Adam Choe: Why is this the right time to prioritize the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative?

Steve Grove: We believe that the businesses of the future are the startups of today, and that our established businesses need an innovation ecosystem to provide the ideas and talent to continue to be global leaders.

Minnesota needs to significantly expand our efforts to make our state a top destination for homegrown and outside entrepreneurs to start, build, and grow businesses. Entrepreneurs and startups should not feel like they have to leave Minnesota in order to make their idea a reality.

When you look at the future of the American economy, the states and cities that are building strong innovation sectors are the ones who are poised to lead the way. Minnesota needs to be a leader and cannot afford to be left behind.

JB & AC: Are other states taking action on this front and are they showing impact?

SG: States and cities don’t become hubs for innovation by accident – they invest in the long term future of their economies. By many measures, states like California, Massachusetts and Texas are national leaders, something Minnesota should aspire to be.

For example, in California, many key industries benefit from proximity to federal labs and private and public universities for key scientific discoveries.  The semiconductor industry that spun out into Silicon Valley was aided by research at defense related federal research facilities.

Massachusetts created a quasi-public venture fund in 1978 to support startups in the state. It also benefits from universities that take an active role in the innovation ecosystem. And In Texas, Austin transformed itself from a university/state capital to a leading technology based region through business, civic and university collaboration.

These national leaders are beginning to separate from the pack. When we look at the concentration of tech companies in these states: California ranks 2nd, Massachusetts 3rd, and Texas 8th. Minnesota ranks 18th. When we talk about venture capital investment in tech businesses, California ranks 1st, Massachusetts 3rd, and Texas 5th. Minnesota ranks 15th.

JB & AC: You have described this effort as bringing government to the table as opposed to leading the way. Share more of what you mean by that.

SG: The true drivers of our economy are the innovative entrepreneurs and business leaders who build wealth and jobs for all Minnesotans.

When it comes to the startup ecosystem, Minnesota has several leaders who are building an industry environment that is conducive to innovation, whether that’s through co-working spaces, events and educational efforts, startup competitions, or efforts to market MN startups as a great place for venture capitalists to invest.

We aren’t trying to replace that activity, we want to empower more of it to happen – and to empower entrepreneurs from non-traditional backgrounds or communities to have the same shot at success. The state government hasn’t been an active player at the table, and we think that if we are good things will happen.

By engaging the community through the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative, we’re showing the state and the world that Minnesota is open for business for entrepreneurs from all walks of life.

JB & AC: As you have toured the state describing this effort, have you come across any individual stories that might serve as a good example of what’s missing today?

SG: I had the opportunity recently to travel with Governor Walz to Duluth. While there, we heard from five dynamic tech entrepreneurs, all at different stages of their business. Some were still in college and were just starting out, some were recent graduates working to build their brand, and others had been in business for a number of years with established clients.

What was great about hearing from each of these businesses is that no matter where they were in their business lifecycle, they could benefit from the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative. Whether a business owner is just starting out, or is looking to step on the gas, the investments and resources in the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative can help all tech entrepreneurs boost their business, which collectively raises Minnesota’s profile in this space.

JB & AC: Have you been surprised by reactions to the proposal? In what way(s)?

SG: We’ve heard lots of enthusiasm from across the political spectrum on this proposal. It’s not a partisan political project but one that has appeal to anyone who wants to put Minnesota on the forefront of economic trends.

We need help to make sure that the MIC is supported by the legislature, so if you like what we’re proposing please call your representatives and senators – it makes a difference, more than you might think!

JB & AC: We think the investments and programs included in MIC are critical to making Minnesota a more supportive place to start new companies, inclusively grow our state’s economy and attract the best talent.

We hope you agree, and will take a few moments to contact your Senators and Representatives to express your support. There is real urgency to this work — current and aspiring entrepreneurs need these resources, and your voice can make them a reality for Minnesota.

With excitement for the future,

Jessica Berg is the Director of MN Cup, the nation’s largest statewide business competition supporting entrepreneurs throughout Minnesota.

Adam Choe is the Managing Director of gener8tor Minnesota, a nationally ranked accelerator that invests in high-growth startups, including through multiple Minnesota-based programs.

Calling all food & agriculture innovators

For generations, Minnesota has been leading the way to the future of food. Today, we’re home to five of the world’s largest food & agriculture companies, a hub of food & agriculture talent, and home to thousands of career opportunities. But that doesn’t mean we have all the great ideas.

Many of the world’s leading food and agriculture companies call Minnesota home because they were able to solve global problems from right here. As a result, Minnesota is uniquely equipped to engage the world’s food and agriculture entrepreneurs and innovators in a challenge to tackle some of the next big challenges.

On March 27, hundreds of food and agriculture executives, entrepreneurs, investors, and allies including the Governor of Minnesota, gathered at the first-ever “Open Innovation Reverse Pitch” organized by the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (or AURI).

The centerpiece of the AURI event included 15 challenges from some of the world’s most innovative food and agriculture companies like General Mills, Land O’Lakes, Cargill, Syngenta, Schwan’s, Ecolab, Hormel, and Compeer Financial.

Challenges included new uses for dairy by-products, gamification models for farm management, bison and regenerative agriculture, and personalized protein snacks.

Are you a food & ag innovator with a solution to one of these or other top challenges in the industry? Browse the challenges put forth by the companies and share your solution by following the instructions at AURI.org.

Busy April calendar brings visitors to Minneapolis-Saint Paul

The Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium may be behind us, but this community stays busy hosting guests all year round. While October is a fantastic time to visit Minneapolis-Saint Paul for events like Twin Cities Startup Week, Food Ag Ideas, MANOVA Summit, and BITCON, April is a busy month as well. And in addition to global conferences like The Forum on Workplace Inclusion and can’t miss events like Minnebar, two innovation events will visit for the first time.

The International Conference on Business Incubation is a global convening of hundreds of leaders supporting entrepreneurs in their communities through business incubators, accelerators, and related programming. These ecosystem builders will convene in Minneapolis for multiple days. They’ll nearly overlap with attendees of the nearby OnRamp Insurance Conference, the leading event for insurance innovation, connecting hundreds of founders, investors, corporate innovators, and collaborators. Visitors will learn that, yes, the Startup Capital of the North can still experience cold air and snowfall in April. But what they may find more surprising is a hub of technology and startup activity that is alive with a spirit of collaboration and fueled by people who solve the world’s biggest problems by working together.

A preview of each event reveals what conference organizers learned when they began to explore our local ecosystem. Namely, that it is overflowing with talent. Consider all the local leaders that visitors will meet, just a small sample of the diverse array of innovators who call this place home. They’ll find executive leaders from companies including Fortune 500’s like Securian, 3M, and Thrivent, as well as Allianz Life, and founders from startups like Upsie, Sezzle, YouSurance, Players Health, SportsEngine, Recovree, Structural, We Sparkle, Social Impact Strategies Group, Starting 11, Monicat Data, and Team Dynamics.

They’ll discover leading organizations like MEDA that helps minority entrepreneurs succeed and AURI that helps food entrepreneurs bring new products to market. And they’ll hear from directors of local incubators & accelerators like Techstars Farm-to-Fork, Gener8tor, Lunar Startups, Clean Tech Open, University Enterprise Labs, and Midwest Pantry. And investors from funds like Rise of the Rest and Capita3. The guests will be introduced to industry associations like Medical Alley and the Minnesota High Tech Association and conveners of communities like Grow North, Connect Up! MN, One Million Cups, Minnovation Collective, and Social Enterprise Alliance.

They’ll also learn from philanthropic partners like the Bush Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and the Minnesota Initiative Foundations. And they’ll get to hear about and even tour innovative spaces and places like Osborn370, Discovery Square, Finnegan’s, James J. Hill Center, The Good Acre. and more. If you’re among those Minnesotans who are speaking at, volunteering with, or attending one of these events, be sure to share something you’re excited about in our community, whether it’s the problems we’ve already solved or the ones we’re solving next. You might find a bit of inspiration in this passport to our ecosystem.

Matt Lewis is the Director of Make It. MSP. at the GREATER MSP Partnership.

The State of Minnesota seeks to champion entrepreneurship. Will you help?

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.

MSP #1 in New Biz Starts and #21 in Inc. Surge Cities Index

Today, Inc. and Startup Genome put out a report on the 50 Best Places in America to Start a Business. Minneapolis-St. Paul was ranked #21 on the list, which analyzed seven key indicators. See how Minneapolis-St. Paul stacks up below and learn more by checking out the complete Surge Cities Index.

Shout out to all the Minnesota companies mentioned. It’s absolutely incredible the caliber of startups, corporations and support organizations like these that make Minnesota such a great place to start and grow businesses. Learn more about these amazing organizations below.

MinneInno’s 19 MN Startups to Watch in 2019

Each year, MinneInno publishes a list of startups doing big things to keep an eye on in the year to come. We’re excited to see what these incredible Minnesota entrepreneurs, innovators and problem-solvers do in 2019! Learn more about all 19 startups on MinneInno or on their websites:

Nice Healthcare
Take 12
Omnia Fishing
Bind Benefits
Atland Ventures
Bright Health
Love Your Melon
Total Expert

HabitAware Keen Makes TIME List of Best Inventions 2018

Each year, TIME highlights inventions making the world a better place. Minnesotan Annela Idnani is doing just that as the founder of HabitAware! Her Keen bracelets help kick bad habits, a product she developed after 20 years struggling with stress-induced hair pulling. The company is on track to surpass $1 million in sales this year and recently secured a $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health to further its research into breaking bad habits.

Learn more.

Minneapolis ranked second best city for startups

Each year, M25 Group ranks cities across the Midwest tech economy. This year, Minneapolis ranked as the second best city for startups based on how active the tech community is, the size and quality of the network, access to resources, the number of startups and their success rates, and other factors such as the cost of living and talent pool.

Read more here.

Minneapolis ranked third in Top Cities for Entrepreneurs and Startups

Business.org put together their picks for top startup cities in 2018 based on factors such as young adult dwellers, higher education, local employment, income vs rent and startup surges.

Minneapolis came in at #3. Of the top 10, Minneapolis’s start-up growth was the highest, a remarkable 121.3%.

Learn more here.

Minneapolis ranked #7 of Best U.S. Cities for Startups That Aren’t New York or San Francisco

FitSmallBusiness.com ranked top cities for startups outside of New York and San Fransico, looking at eight metrics that impacted the survival and growth of ventures. Minneapolis ranked #7.

Read more here.