Forge North is a coalition-based effort to build the problem-solving capital of the new economy. The initiative is designed to align partners who work across industries and communities to start ventures, solve problems, and scale impact. It’s now a strategic initiative of the GREATER MSP Partnership, the Greater Minneapolis-Saint Paul region’s 501c3 public-private economic development partnership.

The Forge North Leadership Council will steer this effort to proudly celebrate, inclusively connect, and dream bigger across a vibrant ecosystem. It will be comprised of entrepreneurs, investors, corporate innovators, leaders of entrepreneurial support organizations, educators and other key stakeholders working in alignment with GREATER MSP Partnership Board and Staff.

Specifically, the Council will work to:

  • Engage a diverse ecosystem in setting clear and ambitious goals (e.g. startup rates) and consistently tracking progress through shared indicators
  • Use goals to rally partners around transformational ideas that accelerate risk taking and ignite inclusive growth
  • Establish annual objectives for the initiative itself, in service of broader ecosystem goals
  • Prioritize support for peer groups & projects, global outreach & PR, and local events
  • Support and amplify local and statewide efforts (e.g. Full Stack Saint Paul, Launch Minnesota)

Founding members in the Forge North coalition worked with the GREATER MSP Partnership to design this Leadership Council and took input from a Design Team of local entrepreneurs, investors, and community builders. A minimum of six and maximum of eight Council Members will be selected through this open application process.

The Leadership Council will operate with by-laws approved by its members. Council members will be expected to identify with the Operating Principles established by Forge North’s founders, as well as the values of the GREATER MSP Partnership. Specific logistics, including frequency of meetings, will be determined by Council Members based on the goals & objectives they set. Full-time staff will manage the Council, with additional support, as necessary. 

This background document provides additional details. Thank you to the dozens of founding members who built Forge North, volunteer council Design Team members, and thousands of people across the ecosystem for working every day to start and scale ventures and solve important problems.

You are encouraged to apply or to nominate someone else.

CLICK HERE TO FIND THE APPLICATION FORM. YOU HAVE UNTIL JULY 29, 2019 TO APPLY.

Have questions? Feel free to contact Matt Lewis, Vice President, Strategic Initiatives at GREATER MSP at matt.lewis@greatermsp.org, or reach out to interim Forge North co-chairs Jessica Berg, Director of MN Cup, and Maria Ploessl, Executive Director of Minnestar.

Starting Up North aims to tell stories, share insights and provoke interest in the innovation that goes on in Minnesota and surrounding communities

by Stephanie Rich

It can sometimes seem like the Minnesota startup community exists in another world. One that sits alone in the Minnesota economy, separate from the rest of what’s happening throughout the state.

It’s worth our time and effort to change this. When we have a startup and innovation culture that is more firmly integrated with everyone in Minnesota, it’s my belief we will see massive benefits for all sides. This means it (and by it, I mean startups and innovation happening in MN) is worth the time and attention of everyone, regardless of whether you’re a founder with one employee or a Director at a Fortune 100 or happily retired after a long career in public service.

What are the benefits of a more connected startup and innovation community?

Customers and clients

We have 17 Fortune 500 companies based in Minnesota. There is no reason that a startup with large enterprises as clients shouldn’t see our state as one of the top places to launch their company. But that’s not currently true. It’s difficult to land pilots, get introductions and sign contracts with some of the larger companies in town prior to having significant traction with other large companies; a catch-22 that necessitates looking outside the state for B2B customers leading to teams moving or launching elsewhere.

More knowledge, understanding and access to startup products hopefully results in more pilots and customers for startups, and access to innovative technology solutions, investments and acquisition targets for local corporations.

On a direct-to-consumer front, greater visibility of the products available from the startup scene here – from developmental toys for kids to rental camper vans to a new type of warranty provider – creates the ability to launch successful brands with Minnesota as a base market.

Talent Transfer

Yes, startups in this state need more talent to be willing to jump from a typical career to one in the world of entrepreneurship and innovation. But startups also need mentors, expertise and knowledge from those who are full-time at corporations, agencies and more. I’ve been able to see firsthand the value of having people from companies like Cargill, Ecolab and Target give their time to startups via the Techstars accelerators in town.

I also think that those at Fortune 500’s can also learn about innovating, speed and more from those of us in the startup community. Whether that’s via the mentorship mentioned about, advisory positions or talent moving from startups directly to roles within corporations, there’s tremendous value to be gained.

Investment

This is perhaps the area of most importance. There is wealth in MN, and for the economy to continue to grow we need to put more of that wealth behind seeding and growing our businesses. It’s my contention that better connection and knowledge within a larger part of the population will lead to increased angel investment in our early stage startups, and thus more successful companies that are started and grown here in MN (not to mention more people making money when those companies are successful).

There needs to be education not only about our companies and opportunities available but about the different types of investment and investment vehicles that are available. Yes, we could do with more later stage investing as well, but that will follow as we gain a population more educated, and perhaps more importantly, more comfortable with investing in the earliest stages of a company.

Starting Up North’s Role

Innovative and cutting-edge corporations, an engaged and excited workforce, increased wealth and numerous new and growing companies. That’s what happens when startups and innovation are fully integrated into our population.

How do we do that? There are many avenues through which we can better connect those in startups/innovation and those who are not. One of those avenues is via storytelling and communication. Starting Up North was born to try and provide interesting stories and insights about the startup and innovation world that appeal to a broad audience of Minnesotans. It is a window into what’s going on that is intended to excite, provoke interest and establish communication avenues throughout the state.

Now, Starting Up North isn’t going to make startups an integral part of MN culture on its own. It is one piece out of many that have an impact and bridge gaps throughout the community. But Starting Up North is an engine towards the situation depicted in this article. It is through stories that we engage, inspire and connect.

The way for you to help Starting Up North in our mission is to subscribe, read and share our content; but also to visit the sites of the startups we cover, the innovation we feature and the community that we will continue to highlight as it grows and spreads throughout our state.

Stephanie Rich is the founder and editor-in-chief of Starting Up North. She’s happy to have been involved with companies including Particle, Omnia Fishing, and Goby Partners. She can be found at the Techstars Farm to Fork office at Osborn370 and is passionate about Minnesota, startups, and dogs.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

Runerra
Nice Healthcare
Take 12
Conservis
Omnia Fishing
Capita3
Bind Benefits
Atland Ventures
NightWare
Sezzle
Foodsby
Dispatch
Bright Health
Love Your Melon
Total Expert
Vitals
Recovree
Plyo
HabitAware

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.

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.