The annual MinneBar event, hosted by non-profit Minnestar, is the largest bar camp-style conference in the country. Saturday, April 27th was the fourteenth incarnation of this highly anticipated event, and it did not disappoint. How highly anticipated was it? Tickets were released in two waves this year, and the first wave sold out in under 7 minutes. Total attendance for the 165+ sessions at Best Buy HQ in Richfield was 1,700.
Minnebar has become Minnesota’s version of South by Southwest-random Minnebar14 attendee
As one passerby put it, MinneBar has become Minnesota’s version of South By Southwest. Don Ball, cofounder of coworking space COCO (now Fueled Collective) credits Managing Director Maria Ploessl and her crew for keeping it a “pure experience”. “Lesser minds would kill it off through monetization,” said Ball.
Becky Lauseng, Director of HR at the ag-tech software company Conservis and a Minnebar newbie, shared her glowing review with Great North, “This year was my first time attending Minnebar and wow, was I impressed! I’m already looking forward to next year! From the variety of topics offered in the breakout sessions, to the passionate and forward thinking presenters, this event was so valuable to me. For someone who supports a local technology company and its employees, I gained a lot of insight on current trends, ideas and technology advancements that I can take back to work and apply. I can’t wait for next year!”
Great North Labs is a proud supporter of Minnestar and Minnebar. Our advisors Sona Mehring and Alex Ryan are board members, while advisor Ben Edwards and Great North Labs Managing Partner Rob Weber sit on the Advisory Board. Edwards is actually the co-founder of MinneBar and Minnestar, and he returned this year to represent his current startup (and Great North Labs portfolio company) Misty Robotics. We were glad to be a part of another successful Minnebar, and to see a strong showing from the MN tech community. Here are some of the highlights.
Diversity and Inclusion in Tech
The day started as it always does with Session 0. This year’s presenter was Sharon Kennedy Vickers, Chief Information Officer for the City of St. Paul. Vickers is a 2018 Bush Fellow, and is the co-founder of Techquity, and co-organizer of CodeSwitch and Open Twin Cities.
A key point from Vickers’s speech was that one of tech’s greatest pitfalls is in overvaluing “outputs” of users and workers compared to their inputs. She is working towards an inclusive innovation economy, and making Minnesota a great place to launch tech products with social impact.
“Diversity is the invitation into the room. Inclusion is the offer to dance.”Elliot Payne
Later in the day, Jeff Lin hosted a panel on the importance of diversity in tech, with Antoinette Smith, Jenessa White, Elliott Payne, and Philip Xiao. As Elliott put it, “Diversity is the invitation into the room. Inclusion is the offer to dance.”
At Great North, we believe that founders in rural areas also work at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to accessing capital and receiving strong mentorship. We work with these founders through the tech and entrepreneur communities in cities like Sioux Falls, Fargo, and St. Cloud. So we were glad to see Caitlyn Casper from St. Cloud State’s Entrepreneurship Club taking part in her first Minnebar!
VC Reverse Pitch
Our team’s first presentation of the day was voted into the largest room, the Theater. Great North Labs Managing Partner Rob Weber presented “VC Reverse Pitch” alongside Mary Grove, partner in Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund (ROTR). The session shared a fund manager’s perspective on what they seek to know when determining whether a startup is worth investing in and how a VC can help a founder grow their business. It was packed with founders looking for inside knowledge on securing investment.
Among his opening remarks was a tidbit of valuable advice for founders. Rob talked about how important it was for a founder to be knowledgeable and able to provide an overview of their total addressable market (TAM) as experts in that industry. Weber also frequently encountered founders being unable to explain how their startup’s primary distribution model connects to their serviceable market (SAM).
Mary Grove later seconded this notion, as she said that many times what got ROTR excited was when they could look at a fleshed out growth plan, charted out for months in advance. She recommended that founders provide quarterly follow-ups to fund managers with key progress updates.
“One of the reasons we like co-investing with Great North Labs is because Rob and Ryan have the experience of building, growing, and exiting a company.”Mary Grove, Partner, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund
Grove highlighted the importance of finding good, trustworthy co-investment partners to complete a successful venture round, and talked about why Revolution like to partner with Great North Labs on deals. “One of the reasons we like co-investing with Great North Labs is because Rob and Ryan have the experience of building, growing, and exiting a company.” She had more glowing words for the Weber twins early on, saying, “They are good friends, co-workers, and partners.”
She also stated that it is time for the Twin Cities to be nationally recognized, and we at Great North Labs agree with this wholeheartedly. We think that Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, and their mission of driving economic advance and funding great startups in states outside of traditional VC funding, is the ideal partner in driving this national recognition.
Intro to Exponential Technology & Leadership
Ryan Weber, Great North Labs managing partner (and Rob Weber’s brother), opened by explaining what compelled him to help establish a new chapter of Singularity University’s global community. After attending their executive education program in Silicon Valley, he returned home inspired by the future changes around the corner, and the possibility for global, positive impact by using these technologies for good. He joined the founding team of SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul in hopes of educating and inspiring others to work on moonshot projects aimed at changing the world instead of simply solving problems.
The local tech community has gone through extensive growth in the past 5 years, and is becoming one of the best places to form a startup in the country. However, Silicon Valley is far ahead of us when it comes to startups with grand, world-changing visions. Weber believes that to take the tech community even further, we need to study the world’s greatest challenges, and see how we can exploit new exponential technologies to provide solutions that are ten times or more better than what is currently available.
Weber’s presentation included an introduction to the concept of exponential thinking, a review of a few of the most promising new technologies with examples of local startups going after moonshots utilizing them, and closed with a call-to-action to join the movement by joining the chapter. Membership in SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter is free. The chapter’s kickoff event is at UMN-Carlson on the evening of June 4th, and non-members are welcome to attend.
Creating a MoonShot
Ryan Weber and The Sota Enterprises CEO (and Great North Labs Advisor), Nick Tietz, facilitated a working session focused on design to promote moonshot thinking and the new SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter. In 45 minutes they took a packed room of about 75 people through a structured process to generate a moonshot project.
Participants chose a Grand Challenge to work on, then used two methodologies, “Question Storming” and “Future Wheels”, to crystallize a moonshot statement that embodied the key elements of a world-changing project. Each participant left with a self-generated moonshot idea to solve a major problem facing the world that they would be interested in tackling.
Work Space Selection: Aligning Work Space With Your Company’s Growth
While MinneBar is rife with practitioners teaching multiple skill levels in technical niches, it has really broadened its offerings compared to the early days. This year included a presentation on Korean Skin Care, Personal Finance for Programmers, and even one unlisted, pop-up session titled “How I Accidentally Started a Bank in Nigeria” [Or was it Angola? I forget the country].
One interesting, non-technical session addressed the workspace needs of companies with rapidly expanding employee numbers. David Anderson (Frauenshuh commercial real estate service provider) and David Paeper (HGA architects) provided great advice for growth companies on how to align their work space with their company’s growth. “Your most valuable asset is your people so your space needs to make them your first priority” said David.
Their presentation covered a wide breadth of topics including Location, Amenities, Value, Design + Culture, Well-Being + Safety, and Function + Aesthetics. Key takeaways include:
- Subleasing – Subleasing often provides the most flexibility and value. Most, but not all, sublet space can be searched for on an exchange to help a tenant quickly find what’s on the market.
- Visualization Helps Determine Location – They showed examples with overlaid visuals on a map, used to explore where a companies staff live and where the transit options are, in order to determine the optimal location.
- Suburbs vs. Downtown – The costs for the same quality of space are typically similar downtown versus in the suburbs. However, parking typically is an added expense for being downtown.
- Compression Planning – A growth company should utilize compression planning in their real estate plan to help them understand how they can utilize their space effectively from the onset and after they achieve their expected growth without incurring unexpected costs.
- Freestanding Furniture Is Best – Freestanding furniture has greater reusability and is becoming more strongly preferred compared to panel furniture for tech companies whose need to reconfigure frequently
Sharing the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Tech Community Story with the World
For the entrepreneurs and for the tech talent, what’s going on matters, the ecosystem matters, the way we tell our story matters.Meg Steuer, Forge North
A panel of presenters including Tiffany Orth of Make It. Msp, and Matt Lewis and Meg Steuer of Forge North talked about the importance of storytelling when building and promoting the local tech and innovation ecosystem. While economic opportunity is first and foremost, the whole presentation served as a reminder of all the great reasons why the the area is a good place to work, live, and grow a business.
Mary Grove’s husband, Steve Grove, is working to drive changes at the state level as the new commissioner of MN DEED. The Minnesota Innovation Collaborative is an important effort to inject some growth into Minnesota’s innovation economy. While the Twin Cities metro has the most Fortune 500 companies per capita among US cities, many of them are from the 1970s or earlier, and we aren’t generating new ones at a lead-sustaining pace. Many parts of the state, including declining rural areas and the Iron Range, are in dire need of economic innovation. While we believe that private investment (like ours and that of ROTR) can drive growth in these areas, we believe that the most impactful approach includes public action as well.
MinneBar is a welcome reminder of the power of community, and of the promise of technology to create a better life. Whether you want to create a moonshot, build an exponential tech startup, get funding for a high-growth venture, house your growing company, or attract out-of-state talent, it’s good to know you are welcome at MinneBar, and in the diverse, inclusive tech ecosystem that is growing here in Minnesota and the upper Midwest.
Great North Labs is proud to work with and support organizations like Minnestar, SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul, Forge North, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, and the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative. We are fortunate to be part of this growing, talented, and inclusive tech and innovation community that is among the best and most economically promising in the country. And we are excited to facilitate rapid, innovative growth in early-stage startups by bringing capital, experience, and our network to bear in this rich environment.
CES, the massive annual Consumer Electronics Show, is taking over Las Vegas from January 8-11. This year there are 182,000 attendees, 4,400 exhibiting companies, 1,000 speakers, and more than 2.7 million square feet of exhibit space. Among the companies are two Great North Labs portfolio companies, Misty Robotics and Glowe.
Misty Robotics is a customizable personal robot that can be programmed by anyone from students to advanced developers. Misty is creating a developer community around their hardware, Misty II, which ships in April. Ben Edwards, the UMN-Carlson graduate who founded Refactr and Minnestar in addition to SmartThings, is the Great North Labs advisor who turned our team on to the potential of Misty. The all-star team previously worked on Sphero, Google Nest, and SmartThings.
Glowe is a social wearable. The set of wristband-mounted LEDs syncs with your various social media accounts to display unique and customizable notifications. A Minnesota company, Glowe has been an under-the-radar investment for Great North Labs until now.
This is the first Consumer Electronics Show since Great North Labs started investing, and we are excited to be represented at CES 2019 by two companies with transformative consumer products. If you are in Vegas for the conference, be sure to check out Misty Robotics and Glowe.
Carried Interest: Top Posts from 2018
New Year’s means new content! But before we iterate based on feedback, let’s take a look at what the Great North Labs audience liked, with theTop Posts from 2018.
Top topics included Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, IoT, Venture Capital Investing, and the Midwest Startup Ecosystem, and encompassed white papers, articles, and blog posts.
Read the full article here.
Great North Labs at CES
The Consumer Electronics Show is a monumental gathering of the topnames and startups that takes over Las Vegas annually.
This year, two Great North Labs portfolio companies are present: Misty Robotics and Glowe.
Misty has already garnered some big-time press attention fromTechCrunch. Their team, which includes Great North Labs advisor Ben Edwards, recently completed a round of funding and will be releasing their Misty II personal robot in April.
Read more here.
Jan. 9, Chicago. Tech Talent Showcase: Web Developers, Data Scientists + UX Designers is a prime networking event for startups looking to hire talent.
Jan. 21-22, Jamestown, ND. Precision Agriculture Summit 2019 offers hands-on and technical demonstrations of precision agriculture technologies, applications, and explanations of applications, procedures, and tools designed to lower producer costs and create a more efficient environment for farm production.
Jan. 22, St. Paul. MHTA’s Bi-Annual Legislative Reception is an opportunity for the science and tech community to connect with Minnesota’s elected officials and executive staff. “Members from both political parties and bodies of the Legislature, along with the Executive Branch, attend this reception and the event showcases the important role that innovation has played – and continues to play – in Minnesota’s economy.”
Feb. 2, Minneapolis. DevFest is hosted by Google Developer Twin Cities at St. Thomas, and features a keynote from Annyce Davis, the Software Lead of Mobile Development for Off Grid Electric. “DevFestMN is a one-day conference bringing together developers, designers and technology enthusiasts from the Midwest and beyond.”
We have three new additions to the Great North Labs portfolio.
Misty Robotics is a customizable personal robot that can be programmed by anyone from students to advanced developers.
Pepr is AI-powered software that enables restaurateurs to increase profitability by providing a complete and unified picture of cost and budget data.
Glowe has been an under-the-radar investment, that is preparing for beta launch. Their new product video is live on the Great North Labs website.
Great North Labs recently welcomed four new advisors to the team.
Joe Francis- President and CEO of Central McGowan. Central McGowan is Minnesota’s largest independent and locally-owned distributor of welding andindustrial equipment, gases, supplies, abrasives, safety equipment, automation, and robotics.
Bryan Virnig- Director of Sales and Marketing at Virnig Manufacturing.
Jeff Liebl- President and CEO, Atmosphere IoT Corp.
Jeff was previously the CMO at Digi International, VP of Sales & Marketing at SportsEngine, and VP of Sales at eBureau.
Dan Frankowski- Data Scientist at Pinterest.
Dan formerly worked in data science at Code42 and was a
software engineer at Google.
Dispatch is growing and hiring for a variety of positions after their $7.8M Series A round. You could say they have a plethora of positions.
Structural is hiring a Customer Support Specialist, and Account Executive, andan Office Administrator.
FactoryFix is hiring an Account Manager, Business Development Rep, andLegal Counsel
Team Genius – watch for postings on the Team Genius website.
Pitchly – watch for postings on the Pitchly website.
ZAPinfo – watch for postings on the ZAPinfo website.
IoT and Analytics – Organizing the Industrial Internet
Figure 1: The third revolution: IoT and Analytics. [Image credit: General Electric]
The Evolution of IoT – Where we Came From
The first generation of IoT systems (IoT 1.0) was built mostly with data collected from IP-based sensors by monitoring applications. Whether standalone or embedded in phones, low-cost sensors, compact packaging and distributed power enabled new endpoints and systems. These monitoring applications served needs such as asset tracking, fitness monitoring, mood lighting, physical security, and others.
The second generation (IoT 2.0) leveraged the capabilities of infrastructure tools such as edge gateways, publish-subscribe buses, data warehouses, and API-based integration. The edge gateways allowed IP network segments to connect to sensor bus segments using a diverse set of protocols (e.g., RS-422, RS-485, BACnet, CAN, Fieldbus, Hart, LonWorks, Profibus, Seriplex, Zigbee, Z-wave, and others). The gateways extended the reach of these IoT systems across the many incumbent protocols and enabled the integration of the IP segments with legacy systems. The publish-subscribe buses made data-driven software architectures easier to implement and scale. The data warehouses enabled the integration of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data. The integration APIs enabled ingestion of data at scale. Together, these new building blocks enabled larger-scale IoT applications such as home monitoring, smart metering, power grid management, parking systems, next-generation environmental controls in buildings, windmill farms, warehouse management, etc., with varying degrees of commercial success based on the benefit provided vs. the insertion economics of each use case.
With the larger data sets enabled by frameworks such as Hadoop and big data software such as Pivotal, the third generation of IoT systems (IoT 3.0) is integrating analytics for decision-making. These analytic platforms enable the processing and visualization of the IoT data sets. The large data sets and analytic tools identify aberrations with higher levels of confidence (statistical power) and detect ‘signals’ not seen before, they have lower detection thresholds, greater measurement sensitivity, and higher accuracy.
Applications based on these capabilities range from physical security for homes, buildings, and warehouses; to detection of diseases like lung disease, cancer metastases, or cardiac arrhythmias (see the Mayo Clinic and AliveCor’s recent work); and complex chemical analysis as in rare earth element detection. The availability of computing platforms at the ‘edge’ (e.g., gateways) enables distributed/local analysis.
“The Internet of Things is giving rise to a tsunami of data,” said Great North Labs advisor Ben Edwards (founding team member of home automation pioneer SmartThings). “The billions of residential sensors in people’s homes and the personal sensors on their bodies are sources of data of value to each of us, and depending on what we make available to others, to family members for our safety and well-being, to the retailers we buy from, to the health practitioners who take care of us.”
The proliferation of machine learning algorithms with new programming environments such as Python and dataflow libraries such as TensorFlow has opened up a wide range of new applications. These include anomaly-based security alerts, health and fitness monitoring, genomic analysis and biomarker detection for disease prediction, drones, and self-driving cars.
The addition of machine learning libraries to established platforms such as Matlab, R, SAS, and SPSS, is enabling insertion of machine learning into legacy applications.
The availability of these tools in public and private clouds has made their accessibility and deployment even easier.
Together, with supervised and unsupervised learning, the machine learning software is processing data sets with high data dimensionality, like those from mining, voice processing, drone navigation, and self-driving cars.
The integration platforms and IP-based communication are also enabling the integration of the IoT world with the enterprise world, making applications possible across hybrid computing and control environments such as airports, buildings, cargo ships, factories, hospitals, refineries and oil rigs. While this creates security issues for the enterprise as well as control systems, solutions such as micro-segmentation of hybrid systems are beginning to emerge.
Tomorrow – The New Startups
With products from companies such as Nvidia, Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and now Google, real-time computing power is becoming available at the edge. With easier integration and low cost, it is becoming embeddable at sensing endpoints for applications such as drones, self-driving cars and trucks, personal walking/talking robots, personal assistants, point-of-care diagnosis, no-POS retail, smart logistics, and smart city applications from parking lots to secure airports and intelligent highways.
Beyond analytics and monitoring, this fourth generation of IoT systems will be able to use analytics and machine learning for controls.
What is the outlook for the adoption of these applications? The answer is: it depends. And it is best found through analogies.
How confident do today’s chess masters or masters of the game of Go today feel betting against the machine? IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. And as Great North Labs advisor Mitch Coopet (CEO of AI-focused Aftercode) points out, “Since 2016, Google’s Alpha Go platform has won against several Go masters using improved deep learning techniques.”
Or, when will the day come when your x-ray machine will have better diagnostic accuracy than your radiologist? Ahem, that day is already here.
Or, when will Alexa be able to detect tonal infection to assess mood? Based on indications from Amazon and makers of social robots and AI assistants, sentiment analysis will progressively improve the way machines will interact with humans.
Or, when will we be comfortable with self-driven cars? Completely autonomous navigation in 5-7 years may be unlikely, but it is equally likely that in 20 years, self-navigation will become a required safety feature for new cars.
Given the range of answers above, it is not a matter of if, but when, that real-time control using machine learning will be common. These systems will be able to handle use cases as diverse as (i) detecting rare earth minerals to help navigate the earthmoving equipment towards richer ore in a mining operation, (ii) making real-time sweeps at airports to pinpoint explosives across large masses of people, luggage, and infrastructure, (iii) ensuring that the robots deployed in automotive assembly stay within the extremely tight tolerances of frame construction, and (iv) predicting the failure of a component in a high value CT scanner or remote ATM to dispatch the skilled repairman in a timely way to avoid downtime (a business that Great North Labs has invested in).
The Innovation Ecosystem of the Industrial Internet
“Business Insider projects that there will be 55 billion IoT devices operating in the world by 2025, impacting a broad set of industries including automotive, consumer products, electronics, medical devices, and industrial equipment,” notes Great North Labs advisor Robert Bodor (Vice-President and GM, Americas, at Protolabs).
At Great North Labs, with an ambitious vision, we aim to help build the innovation ecosystem of the Industrial Internet visualized by IoT 3.0. This is because we believe the ingredients to build it are uniquely within reach for us.
The three pillars of any tech-enabled disruption are entrepreneurs/developers, adopters/enablers, and capital.
- Entrepreneurs/developers. The Upper Midwest created the industrial enterprise. Companies such as 3M, Caterpillar, Emerson, Ford, GM, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Rockwell, Toro, and many others, have been in the industrial enterprise as their core business for several decades. Their alumni understand the problems and opportunities of the industrial enterprise unlike any others in any other region of the world. The hungry entrepreneurs studying machine learning, paired with vertical experts who have worked on these problems, comprise the ideal startup teams to build the IoT 3.0 applications. The Upper Midwest uniquely provides this talent.
- Adopters/enablers. While the industrial enterprise companies themselves may have limited appetites for leading innovation, they understand that market inflection is around the corner, and they are prepared to have their customers lead the way to achieving market alignment. Partnerships with these companies through co-investments, pilots, and sales affiliation to reach their customers and insert the innovations with minimal risk is the most effective path to adoption.
- Capital. Channels for entrepreneurial capital include venture funds, incubators and accelerators, and corporate investment funds. Of these, we believe that the first two provide the most efficient path for innovators, and that they create the on-ramp for in-house corporate teams to acquire well-formed companies that have demonstrated a strong product-market fit and, through later-stage funding, have even scaled their businesses. The Silicon Valley startups of yesterday that comprise some of the biggest market caps today have done exactly that. We believe that over an extended period, the Industrial Internet can deliver similar outcomes in the Upper Midwest.