Welcome to our last newsletter of 2020. It’s been a challenging year. We feel fortunate that the local early-stage startup scene has remained strong, and believe that investment in innovation and digital transformation will help fuel the post-pandemic economic recovery.
In 2020 Great North Labs invested a total of $5.8M, adding 14 startups to our portfolio for a total of 23. Most of the remaining capital in Fund I is allocated for follow on investing. That won’t slow us down with backing new startups as we intend to continue investing in new companies out of new funds.
Before we look forward to new investing and ring the new year, let’s take a look at the top stories of 2020 for Great North Labs. These are the topics we wrote about that resonated the most with our audience.
Top 5 Stories of 2020
The pandemic has forced sweeping changes around the world. We wrote about legislation that can spurn the economy to recovery and the increasing speed of digital transformation driving value creation in tech companies and the Midwest. We also tracked trends, curated startup resources for entrepreneurs, and encouraged giving to support local nonprofits in the tech and startup community.
2. Capacity Building
As the startup ecosystem grows, with it grows the capacity to produce breakout startups. Those startups drive economic value creation, economic activity, and job creation. This year we laid out the cash and equity, time and effort donated, re-affirming the commitment laid out in our Founders Pledge and our give-first mentality.
3. Resilient Startups
Startups have to be capital efficient and nimble to survive a downturn. The Midwest in general is know for capital efficiency and the grit required. We dug up a list of resilient startups in Minnesota that not only survived, but thrived after coming through a recession. We also pointed out how to spot a good consumer app startup, and paired with CliftonLarsonAllen to explain how investors may be able to get 100% capital gains exclusion by investing in these startups as angels or through venture funds.
4. George Floyd
The American Dream is one of a meritocracy, where those who work hard and well are rewarded. This dream is still not a reality for many Americans who face systemic inequities. BIPOC individuals face economic deprivation due to these inequities, which have profound and compounding effects. The events surrounding the death of George Floyd drove home the fact that we need to continue to work to provide equitable opportunities for success through charitable giving, training, and mentorship, and track progress in the number of founders we see.
5. 2020 World Economic Forum
Great North Labs was honored to be invited to the 50th Anniversary World Economic Forum in Davos back in January of 2020. Managing Partner Pradip Madan spoke about our investment thesis, digital transformation, and increasing innovation in the private and public sector in front of leaders from around the world and appeared on CNN Money in Switzerland. Pradip also hosted roundtable discussions on “Business models and strategies that will hallmark the next phase of global economic transformation” with The Digital Economist, and participated as a sponsor for the International Women Business Leaders Reception.
Launch MN Expert Exchange
Launch Minnesota has put out a call for mentors and experts to join their Expert Exchange. “The Minnesota Expert Network is a statewide program to help entrepreneurs find the right support and bring avenues for engagement, networking, and project development for startups at different stages of growth.”
Interested subject matter experts, project supporters, and business mentors can find more information here.
Here is a mix of upcoming events for investors, founders, and/or ecosystem supporters. All events listed are virtual.
- Jan. 12th, the BETA Spring Cohort application opens.
- Jan. 22nd, application deadline for Developing Your Lean Startup. This is the Lean Startup School cohort with Red Wing Ignite and ILT Academy from Feb. 6th through April 1st.
- Jan. 22nd, LaunchMN Friday Forum.
- Deadline TBD, gBeta Greater MN-St. Cloud Spring Cohort. The application is now open for the accelerator program, which will run from Mar. 4th through April 23rd.
- Feb. 25th, BETA State of the State. The event is “a tight, informative download on Minnesota’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Brief updates will be shared by founders, community leaders, and regional thought leaders to provide a comprehensive overview of the area’s most exciting activities.”
iraLogix is new to the Great North Labs portfolio! iraLogix is an advanced, institutional IRA record-keeping and trading technology offering web-based institutional IRA record-keeping services. We led a $7.5M round that included Circadian Ventures, Trog Hawley Capital, and Riverfront Ventures.
“We needed a Plan B.” PartySlate, the visual platform for event planning, has moved into virtual events.
“Plyo App Inspires Active Lifestyles.” Plyo is partnering with Big Ten Schools to promote active lifestyles.
“Study: Work From Home Transitioning Resident Amenity Needs at Apartment Communities.” PrintWithMe has expanded their self-service printer service to 49 states, while a study confirms that their service is an in-demand amenity for those who work from home in an apartment building.
Dispatch is hiring a Product Marketing Content Creator, and a Senior Ruby on Rails Developer for Remote work.
FactoryFix is hiring a Team Lead – Full Stack Developer, Full Stack Developer, and Infrastructure Developer- DevOps in Madison, WI; and a Sales Development Representative in Chicago, IL, Indianapolis, IN, or Madison, WI.
TeamGenius is hiring a Customer Success Manager, and Lead Engineer-Mobile Development based in Minneapolis, MN.
PrintWithMe is hiring Customer Support Reps in Houston, TX and Washington, D.C. Regional Sales Directors for East Coast, South Central, and South East regions; Director, Demand Generation, Operations Lead, and a Winter 2021 MBA Strategy Intern in Chicago, IL.
Parallax is hiring an Experienced Product Designer in Edina, MN.
Branch is hiring a Senior iOS Engineer and Android Engineer for remote work. Also a Consumer Marketing Manager, Account Executive (Mid-Market), and Channel Sales Manager in Minneapolis, MN.
Inhabitr is hiring a Chief Growth Officer/Head of B2C Growth, Digital Marketing Lead, Operations and technology Associate, Operations Manager – B2B, and a Sales and Customer Experience Associate in Chicago, IL. Also, Product and Technology Associates in Miami, FL, Los Angeles, CA, Austin, TX, Dallas, TX, and Phoenix, AZ; a Junior Interior Designer in Los Angeles, CA, and a Product Manager in Alpharetta, GA.
Clinician Nexus is hiring a Customer Success Manager in Minneapolis, MN.
NoiseAware is hiring a VP of Marketing, a QA Technician (independent contractor), Senior Director of Software Engineering, People Operations Generalist, Account Manager, and a Customer Advocate in Dallas, TX.
Every year, when I begin holiday shopping for friends and family, I always start with a list of gift ideas sourced from local entrepreneurs in Minnesota and the surrounding region. One of the best ways to support your community is to become a customer from the entrepreneurs in your community.
With the input of some friends in our local startup community, here is the 2020 list!
GiftBomb – With a unique intake form to understand your gift recipient’s interests better, the highly personalized Giftbomb gift baskets have brought surprise and delight to so many friends and family for me this year. They source most of their products from local businesses. Huge fan!
Askov Finlayson’s Climate Positive Parka ($495)- I purchased Askov’s latest parka right when it came out and it is outstanding. Although this is on the higher end on my list at $495, it’s well worth it for that special someone.
Great Lakes Shirts ($36)- Because of the shut downs due to COVID, I’ve spent a lot more time with my family at our cabin this year. Great Lakes has very cool designs representing lake country vibes.
Love Your Melon Facemasks ($25)- By now, most people’s facemasks could probably use a refresh. Enough said.
Kidizen Gift Card – For the latest new (or used) in kids fashion.
REM5 Winter Hat ($30)- Live events are out, but winter hats are in.
Toys & Games
Covid Playing Cards ($12)- Covid Cards are a fun time capsule delivered in the form of a standard deck of playing cards of all the whacky things that we have all experienced this year.
Paddle North Paddle Boards, Floating Docks, Kayaks ($500 to $1000)- We purchased one of the floating docks for our cabin a little over a year ago and it was a real hit with the kids.
Omnia Fishing Gift Card – For the fisherman in the family.
YOXO ($46)- Creative toys for young kids.
Cooper Kits ($65/quarterly subscription)- Running out of fun, educational ideas for the kids schooling from home?
Art Barn Boxes – DIY art boxes for kids.
Food & Beverage
BoozyJerky ($6)- Beer-infused beef jerky that is super tender and great paired with your favorite ale.
Fast Mary’s Bloody Mary Mix ($15)- Vegan, gluten-free seasoning blend for a spiced up bloody.
SIPDARK – Whiskey accessories.
Muddy Paws Cheesecake – Over 222 flavors of cheesecake. If that’s not enough, you can even rent their cheesecake food truck!
The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen ($25)- The James Beard winner’s cookbook featuring modern Native American cuisine
Health & Wellness
DoseHealth – Medication management.
Cammellatte – Skincare products made from camel milk.
PetChatz ($90) – A treat-dispensing video phone to check in on your pet when you’re away.
Printerette Press – Custom cards, invitations, etc.
Fractional Toys – Rent ATVs, boats, motorhomes instead of buying.
Mend Jewelry – Jewelry is always a good gift idea.
With approximately 500 attendees, uber-founder and CEO Navroop Sahdev and VP Heidi Cuppari conducted the outstanding The Digital Economist Roundtable at the World Economic Forum 2020 at Davos. Great North Labs was invited to the event to discuss the role of venture capital in economic impact, and I shared the fund’s experience and strategy.
The strategy starts with Fund I. The plan for Fund I is to invest in roughly 30 companies. We anticipate these portfolio companies will raise a total of ~$200M from co-investments as they grow. With that total and, for example, a 500% return over the life of the fund, we would build ~$1B in market value. By motivating LPs with successful exits to reinvest in subsequent funds, this builds a cycle of growth.
In the course of raising and investing Fund I, we gained valuable experience in developing relationships and aligning incentives. Great North Labs built an ecosystem of 200+ investment partners, 60+ advisors, and developed relationships with universities, regional economic development organizations, government, and innovation catalyst organizations such as Singularity University. To develop local talent, we founded a startup school that educated 200+ on startup entrepreneurship, regularly provide office hours and mentorship to entrepreneurs, and worked with, trained, and hired college students.
Regional entrepreneurs prefer to raise money and grow in their communities, and investors prefer to invest within the region where regional VCs are available. By leveraging our foundational work from Fund I, our second fund could bring 2-3X the co-investment dollars and returns. Over 3-4 decades, this is how investors built fortunes and turned the farm economy of Silicon Valley into one of the world’s most prosperous regions.
While continuing to lead and co-invest in Seed Stage through B Rounds in Fund I, we will raise Fund II. This will create investing continuity and maintain dealflow, synchronicity with the local ecosystem, and co-investor relations. By creating a cycle of growth and re-investment, our goal is to create prosperity in a similar fashion as Silicon Valley, here in the Upper Midwest.