The Startup Capital of the North is on the rise. People are starting more ventures, deploying more capital and solving more problems. People are taking risks. Founders usually take the biggest risks. But so do their team members, investors, mentors, and customers.
Still others take risks by devoting their careers and reinvesting their dollars towards building the ecosystem by launching or running an incubator, accelerator, educational group, fund, publication, or community space. We proudly celebrate these pursuits and encourage others to unleash their own ideas.
In 2017, a couple dozen folks from across this ecosystem started working together across different organizations. When they decided their shared work needed a name and direction, they brought in the creative team at Zeus Jones. And when they later realized that deeper partnership required stable support, they investigated their options.
The GREATER MSP Partnership provided backbone coordination with financial support from the Bush Foundation. For example, founding Forge North partners like Dakota Crow (then Optum, now U.S. Bank), Alisa Mulhair (then Target, now Sonder), and Santiago Vallejo (then U.S. Bank, now Carlson Wagonlit) built a peer group of dozens of corporate innovators, supported by GREATER MSP. Founding partner Brett Brohl (The Syndicate Fund) kicked off a growing table of active early stage funds and investor groups, coordinated by GREATER MSP. Founding partners Lauren Pradhan (Grow North) and Maria Ploessl (Minnestar) led their peers in an effort to share best practices and tools for entrepreneurial events and programming.
This work was not linear. In fact, it can admittedly progress at odds with the nature of its participants. After all, success within the startup ecosystem often comes from moving fast and breaking things. But success across a diverse ecosystem requires shifting gears. (You recall the adage about traveling “fast, alone” or “far, together.”)
What the work did most was foster new relationships and trust. Partners did find it challenging to execute projects and invite others in without consistent structure. So, a group of volunteers worked on a solution, led foremost by Starting 11 and Lunar Services founder Amanda Heyman, bSwing founder Jen Alstad, Yonder founder and Gener8tor Minnesota MD Adam Choe, Minnestar ED Maria Ploessl, Securian Director Liz Carraro, MN Cup Director Jessica Berg, and former Augeo executive Scott Moore.
GREATER MSP Partnership board members approved making Forge North a top priority of the Regional Economic Development Strategy. Now, to steer the ship we are building a Leadership Council, a combination of individuals from across the ecosystem working with organizational representatives of the GREATER MSP Partnership.
This coalition is called Forge North because it is about different organizations, networks, and individuals united by their pursuit of a shared ambition: to build the problem-solving capital of the new economy. (Some team members refer to this lovingly as “the Captain Planet thing.”) These lofty words are in need of clear and measurable goals. So, the very first thing this Council will do is set specific community goals to rally around, like the rate of new starts. Imagine what an entire community can do with intentional direction.
Meanwhile, the GREATER MSP Partnership will increase its support for these peer groups of investors, community builders, corporate innovators, and others. We will advance projects like this entrepreneurial resource guide and global outreach program. And we will use our platform to advance important work led by partners, like the state’s terrific new Launch Minnesota initiative, celebrations like BETA-led Twin Cities Startup Week and Grow North-led Food Ag Ideas Week, targeted programs like MEDA’s Catalyst and Million Dollar Challenge, and so much more.
We don’t necessarily know how to do this work together. Many of our peer communities have a head start. Not because they have more assets, but because they are taking risks. Indicators reveal where ventures are being started, capital is flowing, and shared prosperity is being realized.
However, the greatest collective risk we could take would be to do nothing. So, equipped with shared principles, existing momentum, grassroots leadership, and institutional support, we forge. We encourage you to join us, whether that’s by starting your own venture, increasing your support for the individual partners of this coalition, or by applying to the Leadership Council of Forge North and working in partnership with others.
Matt Lewis is Vice President, Strategic Initiatives at the GREATER MSP Partnership. To dive in and learn more, join founding Forge North partners and hundreds more on July 24 at the Palace Theatre for HORIZON, a Forge North event.