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.

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.