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

1. COVID-19

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.

Our piece on giving during the pandemic highlighted some of the contributions by our portfolio along with our own efforts.

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

Events

Here is a mix of upcoming events for investors, founders, and/or ecosystem supporters. All events listed are virtual.

Portfolio News

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. 

Job Board

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.

The world is changing, and a new wave of tech entrepreneurs are shaping the new normal. The tech sector is performing well as the need for innovation, necessitated by the pandemic, becomes more urgent. 

As digital transformation accelerates in all sectors, and our country re-establishes its economic future, we are working to cultivate tech entrepreneurs in the Upper Midwest. By increasing the capacity of our innovation ecosystem, we can produce more startup successes locally. This benefits not only current founders and investors, but contributes to a sustainable economic future of the entire region. 

Building Capacity

We build capacity by donating time, money, and equity to organizations that support founders. Not every organization, but the ones we see as most impactful. By donating to those organizations, we support founders, the startup ecosystem, and the entire innovation economy. 

Startups are fantastic drivers of economic activity. They are growth engines that take in capital and put out jobs – as well as create their own value. That’s why it’s so important to support them- and the organizations that encourage, enable, and enhance their existence.

So have we put our money where out mouth is? Any returning newsletter reader can attest that we certainly talk about building up the ecosystem enough. Well, now it’s time for us to shut up and put up. Check out our complete cash, equity, and time donations to date, along with the organizations we donate to.

Annually, venture investment makes up only 0.2% of GDP, but delivers an astonishing 21% of U.S. GDP in the form of VC-backed business revenues.- Source: Brookings article “As the venture capital game gets bigger, the Midwest keeps missing out

If you are a founder or startup employee that is interested in rising to the challenge, check out our Founders Pledge. It is as simple as pledging to donate 1% or more of equity to the nonprofits that you find worthwhile. If you eventually have a big exit, that donation can mean MAJOR impact for a nonprofit organization. Our founding partners have pledged at least 2% of their personal interests in our debut fund, and we look forward to sharing our success with these impactful nonprofits. 

Ethical Entrepreneurship

“The question ‘does this make for a better society?’ is a question we don’t typically ask entrepreneurs to think about, but they should be” says Laura Dunham, Associate Dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at St. Thomas University. Dunham was recently featured on Stanford Innovation Lab’s podcast, eCorner. 

Dunham speaks specifically to ethical behavior among entrepreneurs, but the same principle applies to us. So, does our investing make for a better society? Do our capacity building efforts bear fruit? 

Time will tell on the tech side of things, but we can share some impact metrics. So far we have invested in 22 early-stage startups. They have attracted $138.4M in total funding, and have created ~750 jobs. Of those startups, 2 have rural presences (HQ or significant office), 4 have female founders, and 3 have minority founders and combined. These startups from underrepresented categories account for 30% of our invested capital to date.

Events

Here is a mix of upcoming events, for investors, founders, and/or ecosystem supporters. All events are virtual unless otherwise noted.

Portfolio News

Airbnb to Ban or Cancel One-Night Stays on Halloween Weekend to Deter House PartiesNoiseAware has a new deal with Vrbo, as Halloween brings a round of pre-emptive, “possible Halloween party” cancellations to AirBnB. 

PrintWithMe Announces National Partnership With Trammell Crow ResidentialPrintWithMe has inked a deal with one of the nation’s largest developers of multifamily apartments.

BabyQuip and Inhabitr Form Strategic Partnership to Provide Long Term Baby Gear Rentals to Millennial FamiliesInhabitr has a new partnership to provide baby gear rentals through its furniture rental platform. 

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring a Business Development Representative, Account Executive, and Customer Service Representative in Bloomington, MN; a Ruby Developer and Senior Ruby Developer for Remote work. Also Territory Sales Managers in Baltimore, MD, and Washington D.C.

FactoryFixis 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.

PrintWithMe ishiring Regional Sales Directors on the East Coast and in Texas; Operations Lead in Chicago, IL; VS/SVP of Operations, Marketing Director, Inside Sales Executive, and Director of Revenue Operations for Remote work.

Parallax is hiring an Experienced Product Designer in Edina, MN. 

Branch is hiring a Data Platform Manager, Senior Software Engineer, and Enterprise Support Specialist for remote work.

Inhabitr is hiring an Operations & Customer Experience Director – B2B Team in Chicago, IL.

Clinician Nexusis hiring a Customer Success Manager in Minneapolis, MN. 

NoiseAwareis hiring a Director of Finance, QA Technician (independent contractor), Account Manager, and a Customer Advocate in Dallas, TX.

PartySlate is hiring a Senior Growth Marketing Manager in Chicago, IL. 

Entrepreneurship is a proven, capital-efficient way to build economic value and transform regions. It doesn’t just happen, though. Developing talent, supporting founders, and delivering capital and connections to promising ventures are all key. They are all necessary for driving innovation, which drives value creation.

According to Brookings, “Annually, venture investment makes up only 0.2% of GDP, but delivers an astonishing 21% of U.S. GDP in the form of VC-backed business revenues.”

These key functions of a productive startup ecosystem don’t just happen. They need to be built and executed, and supported themselves. We founded Great North Labs to deliver the capital and connections, but other organizations are needed to provide the additional support. 

We are committed to doing our part to support these organizations. 

So what does that actually mean? What are we actually doing? 

Our Contributions

We donate equity through our Founders Pledge, lean in with hands-on support, and our Partners donate cash. Here is an accounting of what we have contributed to date since our 2017 inception. 

To put that in context, that’s roughly 41% of our annual management fee given in cash, and 45 work weeks worth of labor. Through our Founders Pledge, our founders have pledged to give at least 2 percent of our own personal interests from our $23.7M debut venture fund to local nonprofits. In other words, we are serious about this.

Who we Support

OrganizationContributions
Startup SchoolGreat North Labs’s initial education initiative- Lean/Agile workshops developed and taught + donations
ILT AcademyCurriculum development/marketing/mentoring in support of this new Startup School program + donations
gBETA Greater MN-St. CloudOur support in bringing, funding, and supporting gener8tor’s accelerator programs in St. Cloud + donations
SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul ChapterOrganizing, facilitating, marketing, operating, and events + donations
MN CupTime spent at pitches and judging + donations
BETA.MNTime spent collaborating/supporting + donations 
MinnestarBoard commitment, fundraising (check out our ongoing Scoreside campaign) + donations
Silicon North StarsDonations
St. Cloud State UniversityTime spent as guest lecturer + donations
College of Saint Benedict and St. John’s UniversityTime spent as guest lecturer + donations
University of MinnesotaTime spent as guest lecturer
North Hennepin Community CollegeDonations
GSDCTime spent supporting + donations

Great North Labs has committed to supporting the organizations that we see impacting startups, and we challenge others to do the same with donations of time, money, or equity. To back up that challenge, we believe in being transparent about our own donations. 

Supporting an Innovative Economy

We believe in supporting organizations that are impacting local startups. We believe in building up the ecosystem to produce more winners. 

The Midwest has a rich history of generating winners, even during difficult economic times. We have hard-working, educated talent, we have the capital, and we have the networks capable of supporting breakout startups. 

Whether you call it digital transformation, disruptive innovation, or the 4th industrial revolution – the fact is that technology is driving changes that affect every facet of our lives and economy. The pace of transformation is only increasing as the pandemic accelerates the need for tech innovation and drives tech sector growth and consumer adoption.

Currently, Silicon Valley and the east coast attract the lion’s share of startup funding, develop the biggest companies, and create the most value in their economies from startups. They are harnessing innovation to drive their economies. With the right systems in place, we can do it here, too.  

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