Ryan and Josef talk about the importance of startup communities and the importance of innovation in rural communities, including St. Cloud, MN.

Molly shares her experience working with incubators, builders, and startups with Singularity University and how that led to her position as the Entrepreneur Ecosystem Development Lead at CORI, where she works with communities to build the infrastructure necessary to help entrepreneurs succeed. Molly paints a picture of a rural America in decline, and explains the transformative value generated by tech startups and productive tech startup ecosystems.   

She explains that the key to any ecosystem is putting the entrepreneur at the center, and calls out Red Wing as a startup community that is really executing- as well as every rural community they work with. “That’s the stories that need to be told. Those are the underdogs that we need to be uplifting. Those are the people flying under the radar that I could talk about all day.” “We have so much more to go as a country in terms of entrepreneurship, in terms of innovation than just what we see in these five major metro areas.”

Full Transcript Below:

00:00

Welcome to the execution is king podcast. Today I’m talking with Ryan Weber, managing partner of Great North ventures. And joining us as a guest is Molly Pyle, the entrepreneurial ecosystem development lead at the center on rural innovation. I’m Molly, how you doing today? Hey, doing well, how are you? Good, good.

00:22

Hey everyone, Ryan Weber here in greater St. Cloud, Minnesota for my home. It’s late June 2021. And we’re starting to see things open up quickly as our vaccination rate Minnesota exceeds 50%. I moved to the St. Cloud from the Twin Cities in 1998 to attend college. The population here is around 189,000. While in college, my partner at Great North ventures Rob and I bootstrapped a company and online PC software publishing and later, ad tech focused on smartphone app marketing to 170 employees and eventual and exit. You know, at Great North ventures, we think execution is key to success. And this podcast will hope to help founders and investors learn best practices from others building the next great global startups from wherever they may be. And I’m really excited today through the work at Great North ventures I’ve had the great fortune of interacting with Corey and some of the work they’ve been doing with ecosystems in the region. So Molly, could you start off by telling us a little bit more about your background and what Korea is?

01:28

Yeah, definitely. So I got started working in entrepreneurship, working with startups, running incubators and accelerator programs at a company called Singularity University based in Silicon Valley. And I had this amazing privilege to get to work with global entrepreneurs see incredible ideas and innovators from truly everywhere, every corner of the earth, you can imagine folks would come and participate in this program that helped them, leverage these exponential technologies and build them into scalable tech startups. So that made me really fall in love with the opportunity that entrepreneurship provides for people. No matter where you come from, if you have a good idea, you can turn it into something real and impact billions of people potentially. So with that sort of becoming my professional focus, I learned about the center on real innovation, which is just a really compelling organization for me specifically, as I wanted to see entrepreneurship as an opportunity become more accessible to more people. So the center on real innovation is an organization that’s really dedicated to closing the rural opportunity gap that emerged out of the Great Recession. I joined the organization in August, like Joseph mentioned as the entrepreneur ecosystem development lead. And that’s really just a long way of saying I help rural community leaders build startup communities and entrepreneur ecosystems. And what that means is building that infrastructure that’s necessary to help entrepreneurs thrive to help aspiring entrepreneurs who have an idea, but maybe don’t know that they can take it forward and execute it. Figure out who are the people who are the programs? Where are the partnerships, what can I access that can help me actually create this tech startup, even if I am in Red Wing, Minnesota, or Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for example. So these uncommon places that you don’t often hear about, as you know, innovation and tech hubs, but center on real innovation really believes that they can become these kinds of tech hubs. And part of that why is why are we focused on rural America specifically, it’s because to be frank, it never recovered from the 2008 recession. So the urban and suburban communities really bounced back rural places failed to replace the jobs lost in that recession, let alone grow their economies. And then we all know the effects of COVID. Nationally, globally, no matter where you are, who you are, we all felt the impacts, but in rural, specifically, only 5% of tech jobs even before COVID were in rural areas, despite the same regions representing 15% of our national workforce. So all of this very unequal recovery stems from what we’re seeing the automation of jobs, so many of which were originally in rural like agriculture, manufacturing, globalization, so outsourcing some jobs that could ultimately be done by Americans if they were skilled up to be able to meet the needs that those jobs require in terms of skills and talent, and this 30 year decline that we’ve been seeing in entrepreneurship. So that’s why we’re really committed to creating sort of inclusive ownership of production in the age of automation.

04:35

That’s great just for framing today’s conversation a little bit Can you talk about for corys focus? Can you define what you mean by entrepreneur and what you mean by rural?

04:46

Yeah, totally. So rural, we talk about like a community in the population size of 5000 to 50,000, which may seem even bigger than you might think but something that we think is important is trying to Create, whether it’s through regional partnerships or through technology as well, the density that rural communities in rural areas lack, that you just naturally have population density in an urban area. So we think about rural in this way, we try to encourage the communities that we work with to take more of a regional approach and think about how they can leverage technology to build more of an ecosystem and inclusive culture. And entrepreneurs, you know, anyone with an idea who is actively working on turning that idea into a startup, and we specifically focus on folks interested in building scalable tech startups. And we do that because there are lots of organizations incredible organizations like score and co starters and the SBDC and local communities that will help folks with a main street or small business or sometimes called a mom and pop kind of business idea. And we acknowledge that that kind of entrepreneurship is critical and is a backbone to really the American economy. But what we want to see is scalable technology startups being created in rural communities, because we’ve seen the returns that those kinds of companies can have in terms of jobs, in terms of wealth being created for that community. So seeing those kinds of impacts, helping people create tech startups, also the rise of distributed work and remote teams being something that you can do, you know, build and scale a startup in rural Maine. And you could have some team members in other hubs where there’s more tech talent, perhaps, but doing that, helping bring the jobs helping bring the wealth and create that in a rural community. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re really focused on.

06:36

Right? Can you share a little bit more about what community needs to be successful? Is there a checklist of must haves that you have put together?

06:46

Yeah, so I mean, the first kind of obvious thing, which I am proud of and want to share about the center on real innovation is one of the things we do as well is help communities to apply for federal funding. So the basic funding that you need to stand up and build an incubator, for example, or get the funding to run an accelerator program or a hackathon, all of that has to start somewhere. And we support real communities and applying to this federal funding. And I’m very proud to say since 2019, only, we’ve helped communities raise more than 13 million in federal funding and match dollars. So the first kind of thing I would say is, while there’s no checklist, it’s it’s pretty obvious that you need, you need capital, you need an infusion of capital, you need folks willing to invest in the community to build the basic infrastructure for an entrepreneur ecosystem. And you know, there is no replicable formula that you can take and drag and drop. We’ve seen some things work in some communities and not working others, but ultimately to one of the most basic things in addition to just having some infusion of capital, whether it’s federal funding, or investors or a mix of that public private partnerships, is also just access to connectivity to high speed internet. So just to illustrate, and part of what Cori does, as well, another bridge organization is support communities and accessing broadband and getting broadband set up. So for example, a recent Deloitte analysis of the digital divides economic impact showed that a 10% increase in broadband access in 2014 would have produced nearly 900,000 more us jobs, and 168 billion more in economic output in 2019. So that’s, that’s kind of, I think, a really powerful statistic to show how important broadband is to economic development and particularly, to building entrepreneurship ecosystems in tech startups. If you’re again, trying to hire remote, you know, DevOps team, and you’re in whatever rural community you may be in, that’s where you love. That’s where you want to be rooted and build your business. If you’re having trouble connecting to the internet and chatting with your team on zoom, which, as we’ve seen, is such a lifeline to doing work in the 21st century, you know, the chances of your success are really limited. So starting with broadband at the most basic level, starting with capital to help you actually build out some of the physical and, you know, otherwise infrastructure that you need for programming. That’s super, super important. And then I also think it’s really, really vital for tech entrepreneurs, especially in rural areas to see visible success stories of people who look like them, who come from their community, who have made it who have been there done that, even if they failed once or twice, I would say that’s even better. Because there is this mindset of, you know, this can’t happen here. There’s this fear of well, if I try and I fail, then everybody knows me, I’ll I’ll have to run into people at the grocery store and kind of hide my head and shame. And I think that we need to really blow up that idea and celebrate the failures, which is something I think I jokingly say Silicon Valley maybe has over indexed in doing but in rural communities, we can kind of bring it back down to It’s okay. You have the courage to actually go out there and try something. And we should be celebrating you and highlighting your efforts to try to build something amazing in this community and for us and for us to be proud of. So get back out there, try again, amplify the voices of people doing this, put them on platforms, do speaker events, do tech talks, do things that the community can come in open to the public and engage because these types of things, I think, plant that seed, and shift the narrative that oh, this can’t happen here. So that’s really important. And also that leads to more that leads to you know, I go to a tech talk, I hear from an entrepreneur, who has actually made it in my rural community. And that suddenly inspires me, I can do this. Now, what do I do? What’s the next step? So having a sort of clear pathway of you go to a tech talk, you hear someone who’s made it who’s from your neighborhood? And then you think maybe this is for me? Well, where do I get started? Who can help me? Are there programs are there incubators are their mentors are their angel investors. So building all of those basic next steps for an entrepreneur to have a sort of cohesive journey, I find that that’s really, really critical. And that’s something I work a lot with our rural community leaders on developing that journey for their entrepreneurs.

11:11

So where do you see communities like starting out? Do you have like leaders come to you who are working on building that infrastructure? Or do you see it beginning with entrepreneurs trying to do a tech startup and then reaching out when they when they have, you know, things that they need that they’re not able to come up with?

11:31

Yeah, our model is working with the community leaders. So the people at that ecosystem building layer, maybe their managers or directors of incubators, co working spaces, accelerators, or general, you know, entrepreneur innovation hubs, maybe attached to a university, we work with that layer of folks to ultimately build their capacity and their ability to serve their local entrepreneurs. So trying to keep things really deeply rooted in the community because someone who has been managing the CO working space in you know, platteville, Wisconsin for five years knows much more than I do about who you should talk to and where the mentors are, or what investment may have happened two years ago with this other successful startup. So we try to help those community leaders actually be the most effective that they can for the entrepreneurs. However, I will say I, I’m a big fan, probably no surprise to anybody in the startup world and Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway in the book, startup communities, I’ve been reading that and doing a book club, actually, with the real community leaders on it. And there’s a piece in that which I love. And I always try to drive back home, which is this philosophy of keeping entrepreneurs at the center, everything in the startup community in the ecosystem should revolve around entrepreneurs at the center, what do they need? What are they looking for? How can we best be of service to them? So trying to apply that lens to the work we do with the community leaders is really front and center of ultimately, everything I’m doing is saying, Are you talking to entrepreneurs just like how we tell entrepreneurs? Are you talking to customers? Are you getting out there in the field? Are you asking questions? Are you iterating, based on what they’re telling you, the ecosystem builders and the people serving entrepreneurs need to also have an entrepreneurial mindset. They need to be flexible and adaptable, they need to respond to the changes of what the entrepreneurs are saying they’re needing or what’s working or what’s not working for them. So trying to really help them adopt that mindset and be the best possible, you know, supporters and fans and amplifiers of their local tech entrepreneurs. That’s really, again, what I think we are all about, ultimately, are the work that I do.

13:43

I got a shout out our advisor Scott Resnick, at this point. He’s he wrote a portion of a chapter or maybe it was a whole chapter I forget in the startup community, his book. He’s EIR at starting block in Madison, Wisconsin doing all kinds of good ecosystem work in Madison.

14:03

That’s really interesting, Molly, you know, I was thinking back to when we were starting there. You know, it’s obviously a larger market, but we had entrepreneur success stories. And that was a major inspiration. And I think more recently, I’ve heard about tech successes and other smaller markets, like Ben from Douala into Moines. He’s got very become very active in the ecosystem in Iowa. And Zach, founder a jam that went public in Eau Claire has done so much to help, you know, you know, ignite, you know, a spark there in Eau Claire. And, and I think that’s something people don’t realize is that there are six very successful tech startups that are being formed, you know, all around the country in the world right now. But these markets are a little bit bigger than the markets you’re targeting. I’m really curious to hear are there any markets or startups kind of entrepreneurial success stories that you could share from these smaller rural markets that you’ve engaged in started working with?

14:54

Yeah, so I, I mentioned this community earlier, and I love talking about that. Because they are a, you know, real underdog that’s come up and hence a massive success, and that is Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and this is a community 40,000 in population 25%, poverty rate 25%, lower median income household in the population. So it’s a region and an area that had been in decline in all the ways you can think of and university attendance in their some of their main industries being manufacturing. So the two entrepreneurs locally, who decided to do something about this, James and Chris, they opened, codify, which is a co working space, an innovation hub and tech incubator in Cape Girardeau, which is in Southeast Missouri. And they started this competition called the first 50k, which is ultimately aimed at attracting tech startups to the area and ultimately giving them $50,000. If they agreed to stay in that area for two years and build their company there. And they provide lots of value mentorship, they actually have a in house project shop, and an adult coding boot camp where they’re building the tech talent pipeline as well. And that’s another big thing in terms of what do entrepreneurs particularly in rural need is access to tech talent, right? So beyond hiring remotely, if you can find local tech talent within your community, that’s fantastic. And so keep Gerardo the codify folks were really trying to solve for that building out the tech talent building out the program to bring entrepreneurs, and they had some really interesting learnings in that program, and found that there were some folks who, you know, came participated, got the $50,000 for two years and then left. And that’s obviously not what they want, they want to find people who are going to stay and become rooted in the community and really, you know, give back and stay there for as long as their startup is scaling and growing and in business. And what they found is that that was actually a real goal of one of their entrepreneurs show rust of a company called show.ai, which is a sort of AI and digital marketing firm, which is just rapidly now scaling, super successful. And part of it is because show, he was doing the startup thing in LA, he was, you know, scaling and getting a lot of traction and saw the first 50k competition as an invitation to return home. He had had family he had had, you know, community and connections in Cape Girardeau, and thought that that was always maybe a place that he would like to return to and be closer to his community. But he didn’t think that there was anything there in terms of, you know, startup activity, mentors, investors, people who could support him. So he was living in LA trying to build that out. However, he saw this first 50k competition, he realized, while people or people in my hometown are trying to make it happen, actually, there’s there’s activity, there’s vision. So he applied, he won, and he has been there ever since. And he’s actually a company that our firm, the Corey Innovation Fund, actually a branch of our organization has invested in so we have a fund that invested in qualified opportunity zone startups startups based in those opportunity zones, which Cape Girardeau is. So show being back in that opportunity zone, being back in his hometown with his family, building his tech startup that was you know, doing great in Los Angeles, but now continues to thrive in Cape Girardeau. I just love that story. And I think it’s a great example of finding, finding that personal connections, people who are gonna return to a place or move to a place or stay in a place because there’s something you know, that really roots them there. I think that is really special and really notable. And I just have to add that part of the first 50k program, why I love it, and think it’s impactful is if you can find those people who are going to stay, of course, beyond the two years, that’s the goal, who have this reason or vision for saying in the community. What that has happened is seeing the awardees, seeing those startups generate over 6 million in revenue, create 40 plus local jobs, and generally, again, prove to the community be visible that this is possible that this can happen here. So ultimately, I think that that is one success story. But the program itself is so much more impactful. I think when you look at that big zoomed out view of how many jobs and how much impact and how much of a mindset shift it’s creating for folks in Cape Girardeau.

19:25

Yeah, that’s really interesting. You know, I, I hadn’t heard details of that story, but I can only imagine how transformative that is to a community like that. And, you know, there’s, you know, you know, a couple of people I wanted to get kind of shout out and in our region, you know, in Sioux Falls Matt Polson, of marketbeat, a founder has really taken a leadership role along with local other entrepreneurs and consulting groups to really shape Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and it’s really a it’s become a statewide initiative. It’s really connecting communities around the state to supercharge startup entrepreneurship and In North Dakota, you know Greg Tevin and advisor in our fund, with emerging prairie in the grand farms initiative, they’ve got a plug and play now in partnership with Microsoft building the future farm itself, you know, these are larger markets, but you would, it would just blow your mind how connected these communities are and how these entrepreneur and ecosystem leaders together can really make a difference quickly and in and that’s what, you know, in your story. It resonates that speed at which, you know, a small group of people in a smaller market, when aligned can really, really change the trajectory of a community quickly. And that’s one of the real, you know, positives, there’s obviously no, there’s some of the challenges that we discussed earlier. You know, speaking of challenges, what are some of the lessons learned, you know, what are unrealistic expectations? What are some of the past failures that we might learn from, from some of the work you’ve seen?

20:52

It’s really important, like, I like I had mentioned that tenant of keeping startups and keeping entrepreneurs at the center of everything. So anytime that there is a story of a pitfall or a failure, I tried to think about, well, what were the symptoms or the factors that caused this and almost every time, I would say, if not every single time, it’s when governments or other actors, stakeholders, people kind of outside of the direct sort of center of entrepreneurship are trying to exert control, trying to impose their views from the top down, rather than letting the entrepreneurship ecosystem be really bottom up, be led by entrepreneurs. So architecting out, entrepreneurs from leadership is the most, I would say accelerated way you can lead an ecosystem to fail, if the entrepreneurs are not the people at the center, making decisions, having their voices heard, having their needs being met. I think that that is something that, you know, will be a fast track to pitfalls. And, and I think that all too often, too, there is this expectation of these kind of actors or investors at the maybe government or other level who believe that there is such a thing is an overnight success story. And while there are there are definitely people who can move fast and break things, as they say, all over this country, and particularly in rural areas as well, because I really believe that innovation and being resourceful is kind of at the heart of a lot of people in rurals mindsets and attitudes, you had to be innovative and resourceful to survive in rural America really, for so long. And so I think that when you can see, you know, folks not understanding that this is also a long term commitment. This is a long game, like, you know, Brad Feld says think of it in 20 year segments. So when folks are expecting overnight success and have a misalignment of expectations of Oh, we want to see your first accelerator ever that you’ve done in, you know, rural Vermont produce the next Google, that’s obviously not realistic. However, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be fantastic startups coming out of these areas. And these programs, it just means that we need to in tech startups, for that matter, it’s it’s definitely our focus, like I mentioned, but it’s something that I think we need to get on the same page about early on is that this is going to take, if you’re starting from scratch, especially a longer time, you’re going to need to really stick with it to be okay, like I mentioned with the failures that you might see at first, and to understand that this is something that will happen over the course of like Cape Girardeau, that kind of massive impact and all of the, you know, millions that they’ve generated, and the hundreds of jobs that have been created beyond that first 50k program, they also have, you know, tech startups being built just within their space, all of that happened over the span of now seven, seven years or so. So it’s it’s not something that can happen within six weeks. But it’s also you know, something that I think we can stay optimistic about because it can happen, it just may look a little different than you might imagine it would in Silicon Valley. And that’s okay. I don’t think we need to recreate the next Silicon Valley, I think rural communities can create their own thriving startup ecosystems that fit with the culture in the context. So ultimately, I think it’s about keeping that in mind.

24:18

That’s really interesting. You mentioned a few of the success metrics, like job creation, and you talked about, you know, upskilling, you know, the labor, you know, workforce, but also, you know, attracting, you know, you know, skilled talent back to a region. You know, are there any other metrics that are qualitative or quantitative things that you use as measures of success? Because, you know, this is a can be a grind, and you have to, it may take a long term, but what are some of the things that you would any other anything else you might suggest focusing on, you know, for measuring the progress that’s being made?

24:50

Yeah, I mean, we definitely do look at access to capital as a indicator like like every startup ecosystem, but particularly how die The situation is in rural, that we’ve found and research shows that less than 1% of all VC money goes to rural areas 80% of all investments are made in just five major Metro cities. So tracking and looking at and supporting, how are how the companies in these rural communities are raising capital, whether it’s through traditional investment, capital micro financing grants, we’re trying to support them in all the different ways in blends that they can access capitals. So helping them do that. And tracking that is a huge metric. It’s also you know, the the, the equity investments that they can get from that wanting to see that it’s the exits we’ve had and seen a few exits a few IPOs, a few acquisitions. So trying to track all of that, but also, you know, just the the general startups if you’re starting really small, that are participating in your incubator. are you growing that number over time? Did you start off with five companies in your incubator or accelerator and then three years later, you’ve got 25, we would count that as massive progress because it means that you’re building traction at that community level. So funds raised jobs created profit generated by the new startups, those are, I think, really great and traditional metrics to look at. But helping match metrics with the early stage ecosystem development is important, too, right? You’re not going to have maybe 7 million raised in capital out of the companies in the first incubator ever, or maybe one company does that. And that’s great. But ultimately, you may not see that happen right away. But to match that metric with wherever you’re starting out, if you’re just trying to get folks to pivot, a small business idea, let’s say into a scalable tech startup in a week long, you know, startup bootcamp that’s going to have different and should have more than grounded metrics, then what you want in your accelerator program, after you’ve been doing this community building for three years, let’s say,

26:57

could you talk about, you know, kind of changing gears a little bit here? Where can someone find resources as a community leader or entrepreneur for supporting rural startups? You mentioned a book earlier startup communities? What other resources at quarry or or, or more broadly, Do you often recommend?

27:14

Yeah, I mean, like I mentioned, doing that book on Brad Feld, I mean, Hathaway book is, is, I think, a great tool for learning and for rural ecosystem builders to really get that perspective. I also, you know, selfishly would say what we’re doing at Korea is really partnering with folks to help navigate How can they build this startup community? What do they need to do? Who are the partners, where’s the funding? So we do a lot of that I also point people to the resources from the Kauffman Foundation, I think they are doing some really innovative work and are supporting entrepreneurs in you know, the heartland in rural areas where I think it’s really needed most. So I also think that as much as I mentioned before, you’ve got to get the actors and then governments and the stakeholders to really understand and put the needs of the entrepreneurs, front and center. And assuming you can do that, I think that governments actually a great source of support for entrepreneurs and for ecosystem builders. So if you know how to navigate those complexities of federal funding, SBR process can be great for non dilutive funding, though it can be challenging. There’s also a lot of programs through the Economic Development Administration, we support communities to apply for the build to scale program, which helps you really get that first infusion of capital to build out a scalable tech startup ecosystem. There’s also the USDA rise grant, which was just announced, which provides funding for tech innovation, entrepreneurship, even building physical infrastructure, building the incubator space that you may need. So I suggest you know, folks stay in touch and tuned into what federal funding opportunities are coming down the pike that Kauffman Foundation that Cory I mean, I would say the content that Joel are producing to at Great North ventures could be fantastic for people in your region. So I think it’s important, yeah, to take the national level, understand what’s happening at sort of that layer of the entrepreneurial vision and possibility in this country. But also what’s happening at your community level are they’re great people producing events and content and trying to make connections. And they would love to have more people at those events and reading their blogs and showing up and so finding whatever is in your area, but also tuning into some of those natural national resources. I also just really appreciate the work, though it may not be a resource they bring a lot of, I think thought leadership to this work is village capital and rise in the rest. So those are two that I kind of like to look to as well for what are they thinking what are they saying what are the frameworks they’re putting out? And, you know, how does that look and compare to the work that we’re trying to do in building these ecosystems in rural Specifically,

30:01

thanks so much for coming on the podcast, Molly, I usually close out with the same question every time. And that’s to ask you who is someone, or a team or a startup, or in your case, it might be an organization, but someone who’s flying under the radar, maybe people haven’t really heard about them. But that’s really executing, that people should be paying attention to.

30:24

I, it’s funny, I would take a wide approach to this question and say that every rural community that we work with is in many ways flying under the radar, right and should be looked at as a really, you know, interesting place and a inviting place to invest. And to just understand more and more about what startups are there that tech startups are actually viable and are happening and are being created in these rural communities. And I definitely think I would be remiss not to mention Red Wing, Red Wing, Minnesota being a place that we work and partner with that community. And though it’s not exactly under the radar, because one of their startups was on Shark Tank, actually. And I was just, you know, learning a little bit more about her story, and was really proud of just the way that she has built this company with her brother from the ground up and ultimately got an offer from the sharks and turned it down and is just crushing it otherwise with profit. So I love to see those kinds of things. It’s not under the radar. But I think there’s lots of other entrepreneurs in Red Wing and being served by Red Wing ignite, the one entrepreneur first collaborative that they have there, which I think is just really cool. It’s another model, like we talked about building density, that’s a great model, because they have regional collaboration, they’ve got 11 different counties within southeastern Minnesota, all working together to try to build up that, you know, pipeline of rural tech startups and amplifying those entrepreneurs. So another one I think is really cool. You guys may know is doc labs, this robot that will help people be better at basketball, I just love I mean, those kinds of stories of people having problems that really personally affected them, but then figuring out well, how can we how can we solve this because that’s a real pain point for you know, actual people in this world and solving that and going after that, I think is just, that’s the heart of what entrepreneurial ism is. It’s identifying what needs to exist in the world that doesn’t, and how can I go out there and build it? So seeing that happen in places like Red Wing in places like Wilson, North Carolina and Durango, Colorado, I mean, to me, it’s, it’s that’s the stories that need to be told those are the underdogs that we need to be uplifting. Those are the people flying under the radar that I could talk about all day, because I just think it’s really exciting that we have so much more as this as a country to give in terms of entrepreneurship in terms of innovation than just what we see in these five major metro areas.

32:57

What a great summation to that’s what it’s all about identifying problems people have and fixing them for him. That’s fantastic. Again, thanks so much for joining us on the podcast today. We’ll catch up with you later. Yeah, thanks me. So fun.

The University of Minnesota is embracing startup culture across disciplines and producing results in the number of founders, tech talent, and startups. One of the top universities in the country with enrollment regularly over 50k, a system-wide endowment of nearly $4B, and over $1B spent annually on research and development, it’s incredibly important for the cultivation of early-stage tech startups in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. Because of this alignment, Great North Labs engages with the U of M in several ways.

How the U of M is Engaging

John Stavig is a leader in the tech startup community. The managing director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, Stavig teaches entrepreneurship courses and leads the Center. He helped launch one of the first student-run VC funds in the world, Atland Ventures, with David Russick. 

Stavig has opened the doors to the Carlson School of Management for events and educational opportunities that benefit both students and startup community members. Great North Labs’s Ryan Weber has taught Lean Startup boot camps out of Carlson, at Stavig’s invitation, reaching ~50 students with our Startup School. Ryan has also guest lectured in the Applied Technology Entrepreneurship course on conducting market research and fundraising.

John Stavig welcomes tech startup community events into the Carlson School of Management. Ryan Weber has lectured on crafting Moonshots, Lean methodology, market research, and raising capital.

MN Cup is elevating the entire startup scene. MN Cup has become the largest statewide startup competition in the country. MN Cup takes no equity, is totally free, and distributes half a million dollars in seed funding to their startup participants. The exposure, funding, and recognition they receive is unparalleled in Minnesota. Some of the biggest startups to come out of the competition are:

  1. Sezzle- 2016 High Tech Division winner
  2. Stemonix- 2016 Grand Prize Winner
  3. Kipsu- 2015 Finalist
  4. 75F- 2014 Grand Prize Winner
  5. WhenIWork- 2013 High Tech Division Winner
  6. Foodsby- 2013 Semifinalist

Donors like the Carlson Family Foundation enable Director Jessica Berg to make MN Cup possible. The competition grows bigger every year through their support and efforts. Great North Labs’s Rob Weber judges every year in the High Tech division, and can attest to the increasing quality of startups. Great North has invested in two MN Cup alumni to date, Plyo (2018 Student Division Winner) and TeamGenius (2017 Semifinalist).

Plyo rewards college students for exercising on campus with virtual points that can be redeemed for exclusive offers to popular restaurants, retailers, and brands. Plyo won the 2018 Student Division of the MN Cup.

Atland Ventures provides students real VC experience. Atland is the first-of-its-kind, student-run venture fund, investing in companies that leverage disruptive tech. Originally founded in 2016 by four students, Atland has invested in a dozen companies, including two in the Great North Labs portfolio, Structural and Dispatch. Atland is an independent company, not a student organization, and students can actually see profits from their efforts if the fund succeeds. Their faculty support is from Stavig, David Russick, founder of Gopher Angels, and Raj Singh, Assistant Dean of Undergraduates at Carlson. 

The limited partners include some of the most active local early-stage investors, including our partners Ryan and Rob Weber. Rob also serves as a mentor, and has recruited past Atland directors and managing partners to expand on their practical experience by interning at Great North Labs. The experience students gain at a working venture capital fund is a tremendous benefit in an industry that is notoriously hard to get in, and several have gone on to land jobs at startups and venture funds. 

The U of M has a proliferation of startup support efforts across disciplines. Venture Builders, Grow North, MIN-Corps, WE at the Holmes Center; the Venture Center, MNBridge, and the Discovery Capital Program at University of Minnesota Technology Commercialization, are among the additional efforts to cultivate and support startups. 

One example of the results of this multi-disciplinary collaboration is a startup we recently looked at called Grip Molecular Technologies. Grip is a cutting-edge startup using novel nanomaterials in an electronic biosensor to provide medical diagnostics. Not only are 2 different research scientists on the team from the U of M, but also a marketing executive.

Results by the Numbers

Since 2006, the U of M has launched over 165 startups. They have attracted over $1.15B in capital, and 7 have gone public since 2017. Investors can track U of M startups as they develop, through an online Startup Pipeline. 

The U of M is ranked #18 for Global MBA programs in Entrepreneurship, with the largest statewide startup competition in the country, and 260 mentors providing guidance. Countless students have gone on to lead or work in startups. 

In the Great North Labs portfolio, startups employ over 63 U of M alumni. That averages to nearly 2 U of M alumni for every startup we have invested in!

Dispatch is an on-demand delivery platform that enables businesses to track, manage, & share deliveries as they are ordered. Dispatch is based in Bloomington and employs 17 University of Minnesota alumni (according to LinkedIn data).

Why It Matters

The University of Minnesota is embracing startup culture across disciplines, and is contributing to the growth and development of talent, capital, and support necessary to early-stage startups in the region. This enables digital transformation and innovation across sectors. We are aligned with this approach, and work with the U of M to realize economic value creation in Greater MN, Minnesota, and across the Upper Midwest. 

While people and companies capture headlines with big funding rounds, IPOs, and acquisitions, much of the work the U of M is doing is out of the spotlight. The truth is that the university is plugged in and making a difference in the startup ecosystem. 

We’ve seen it firsthand, working with the administrators, the organizations, the faculty, and the students. And with leaders like Stavig, Berg, Russick, and the Carlson Family, the impact is only going to grow.

Welcome to the May edition of the Great North Labs newsletter. In this time of economic change, entrepreneurial skills, advancing technology, and its new applications will drive the innovations and evolving business models necessary to spurn economic growth and prosperity on the other side of the downturn.

Great North Labs recognizes the importance of seeding investable startup opportunities, and endeavors to be a VC leader in the cultivation of robust early-stage startups in the region. That said, there are opportunities for learning necessary skills for startup entrepreneurs coming up soon, for high school students, college students, and entrepreneurs of all ages.

Education Programs

Today is the deadline to sign up for Jumpstart’s 3-day startup intensive for students! Jumpstart is structured like a hackathon, but with the focus including product and business instead of solely on coding and building. The program starts on Friday and goes through the weekend. Sign up by midnight with your own team, or as an individual. Each team will include technical and non-technical roles.

Jumpstart is virtual, free, and includes a day of workshops, speakers, and Q&A to learn from various startup ecosystem leaders. If you know any students in high school or freshmen in college interested in a startup, check it out. We are proud sponsors of this inaugural event by Futurist Academy, and are excited to see this kind of programming becoming more prevalent and widely available in Minnesota and the Midwest.

Jumpstart
Jumpstart is a free, virtual program for entrepreneurial high school and college students aimed at hacking together a product and business idea.

For entrepreneurs beyond high school, the Startup School is back! This collaboration with ILT Studios, Great North Labs, E1 Ecosystem Builders, and MN DEED has gone virtual. Startup Course 01 | Customer Driven Innovation – Module 101: Opportunity Identification is June 6th! This first of three modules is aimed to take entrepreneurs from idea to investable product. The module is available in two separate 2 1/2 hour time slots, is open to anyone, and, like the entire program, is free.


“Most good ideas do not come fully formed. Even the best ideas need to be iterated, explored, and refined before they have a chance at becoming great business ideas. What most people don’t tell you is that there is a process that can be taught and practiced to sharpen an idea–taking it from good, to better, and then to great.“

Support Startup Education

Silicon North Stars is a program founded by Mary and Steve Grove that takes high-potential ninth-graders from economically underserved communities in Minnesota, and exposes them to startup training, local tech mentors, and the culture of innovation born in Silicon Valley.

Usually the program takes the students out west to visit tech companies, but this past year was the first time the program was run entirely in Minnesota! With the evolving Minnesota startup ecosystem there was no shortage of resources, people, and companies for the students to engage with.  

If you’re interested in joining us in support this program and its alumni, Silicon North Stars is currently raising $10,000 via GoFundMe for their inaugural alumni scholarship program

Events

The summer event season is getting rolling, with many large conferences moving to a digital format. 

Portfolio News

Branch won a Webby! First awarded in 1996, the Webby Awards are, according to the New York Times, the “Internet’s highest honor”. This year the competition garnered over 13,000 entries. Branch was 1 of 2 winners in the “Banking/Financial Services Apps” category. Congratulations to the Branch team for this international recognition!

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring a Director of Sales, Product Manager, Product Owner, Quality Assurance Engineer, Senior Software Engineer, Content Creator, Business Development Rep., and Software Engineering Manager in Bloomington, MN. Territory Sales Manager positions are open for 16 states!

FactoryFix is hiring a Team Lead – Full Stack Developer, Full Stack Developer, and Infrastructure Developer- DevOps in Madison, WI; a Recruiter, and Business Development Rep in Chicago, IL.

TeamGenius is hiring a Customer Success Associate in Minneapolis, MN.

PrintWithMe is hiring a Regional Sales Director on the East Coast; a Software Engineer, Summer Strategy Intern (MBA), and Summer Strategy Intern (undergraduate) for Remote work.

Parallax is hiring a Customer Success Specialist, and Growth/Customer Acquisition in Minneapolis, MN. 

Branch is hiring a Channel Manager in Minneapolis, MN. 

Inhabitr is hiring a Chief Growth Officer/Head of B2C Growth and a Sales and Customer Experience Associate in Chicago, IL.

NoiseAware is hiring a COO, VP of Global Sales & Account Management, Product Marketing Manager, UI/UX Designer, Account Manager, and Customer Advocate in Dallas, TX.

On March 19, 2020, a bill proposing the New Business Preservation Act was submitted to the Senate that seeks to drive economic activity, innovation, and job growth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. The New Business Preservation Act will provide equity funding for new businesses, with larger allocations directed to areas lacking in capital including the Midwest.

While the bill was important even earlier, the events of recent weeks add urgency. Dollar for dollar, it represents possibly the most effective grassroots economic stimulus for the mid-to-long term (2-10 years). Even for the immediate months ahead, it can stem job losses among venture-based businesses.

As an early-stage venture fund based in the Midwest, Great North Labs believes this legislation will drive startup activity and value creation in the undercapitalized regions of our country. Entrepreneurship is a proven, capital-efficient way to build economic value and transform regions, and adding capital to our under-capitalized region will bolster existing entrepreneurial ventures and encourage new ones.

Our support of this legislation is apolitical. As investors, we see the success of this approach every day. Around the world, venture capitalists who pick talent, invest in portfolio companies, and work with their ecosystem (including government) enable grassroots wealth creation. Better than any stimulus or wealth transfer mechanism, the most powerful and durable antidote to economic inequality is new value creation. It is not the CCC or WPA creating jobs for the sake of paying people, or the government distributing wealth, this is grassroots economic growth driven by venture capital.  It is not a one-time distribution. It does not depend on daily oscillations of the stock market which cannot possibly reflect true changes in economic value. Rather, it drives true economic value creation through innovation.

“Senator Klobuchar’s bill is a positive step at a critical time.  As we look at how to cope with the challenges presented by the coronavirus, we should not lose sight of the critical role new businesses play in creating jobs.  The New Business Preservation Act will help level the playing field, by backing entrepreneurs in every state and every zip code, and lead to a more inclusive economy.”

-Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution (Revolution operates the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund focused on investing in areas outside of traditional VC hubs.)

The Bill

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Coons, Sen. Angus King, and Sen. Tim Kaine. It seeks to create an Innovation and Startups Equity Investment Program (ISEI) within the Department of the Treasury. The Program will “allocate money to certain States to assist high-potential scalable startups access venture capital to commercialize innovations, create jobs, and accelerate economic growth, and for other purposes.”

New Business Preservation Act

The legislation calls for $2B to go to the ISEI, with $1.5B going to initial funding and administrative costs, and a further $500M for follow-on investments. Eighty percent of funds would go to the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest, with distributions based on population and adjusted for VC money already present, according to Leigh Buchanan at Inc. magazine, and as exits produce returns, they will be “reinvested in the next generation of businesses, creating a sustainable funding resource.”

Feasibility of the approach

Investing in America’s startups by following VC leads into deals is a fiscally responsible approach. As the chart below of VC returns by vintage year shows, even in recessionary years, returns are at an acceptable level for U.S. Treasury purposes.

Startups headquartered in the under-capitalized areas targeted by the bill will likely outperform the national averages because they generally are more capital efficient due to nascent capital markets to support them. It’s not unreasonable to expect a 5%-15% IRR even in recessionary times. This is accomplished because VC is a long-term investment vehicle, which is the perfect counter to a short-term financial crisis.

Small business vs. startup vs. tech startup

While the article and press release talk about “small businesses” and “new businesses”, the bill deals strictly with startups. A “startup” is defined in the bill as a business entity that:

While there is no mention of the word “technology” in the bill, most people associate startups with tech for good reason. New technologies drive, catalyze, and enable innovations central to new business models, products, and entities. While using a new technology is not required for a startup to put together a winning formula (or to get funding from the ISEI), many of the most innovative and successful companies in the world relied on either new or novel uses to create their businesses.

These companies often require upfront equity investment in order to achieve the scale necessary with their new software or hardware technologies to become viable, high-growth companies. Unlike a services, manufacturing, or industrial business, technology startups rarely have the assets or the initial sales base to obtain traditional bank financing.

The capital gap

Currently, in many of the vast, regional economies outside of VC centers, private investments are reserved for real estate and other traditional vehicles. The need for liquidity in the innovation ecosystem is not met. Because of this, startups in the Midwest and other under-capitalized areas have to work with a capital efficiency not required in more capital-rich areas.

This lean approach can be productive in the early stages of a company’s life by helping to refine products and achieve product-market fit out of necessity. This efficiency is an advantage that Midwestern startups have over coastal startups when capital markets start to freeze up in an economic downturn.

However, once the opportunity for rapid growth and scaling arrive, large amounts of capital are necessary for a startup to reach its potential. Until recently, this meant relocating the operation to Silicon Valley, Boston, or New York. Along with the promising startups goes the jobs created, profits generated, and other ancillary economic benefits. This capital gap is where venture funds such as Drive Capital, Great North Labs, Hyde Park Venture Partners, Rally Ventures, and others that specifically focus on areas underserved by venture capital, work to provide the capital, guidance, and networks required to fuel growth and build long-term value.

Happy Thanksgiving, and welcome back to the Great North Labs newsletter!

This is the perfect time of year to reflect on what we are thankful for, and for giving back. We are most thankful for our investors, our advisors, and our portfolio companies, of course! They are the reasons we exist, work, and succeed.

We are also thankful for the developing startup ecosystem in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. There have been great developments recently like the Launch MN Initiative, the first Greater MN accelerator, and one of the largest seed funds ever raised in the Midwest

There is still a need to improve. There are valid and pressing worries about the creation, automation, and distribution of jobs. Innovation and startups are increasingly important to our future. Did you know that from 1980-2010 about half of all jobs created in the US were from high-growth startups? 
 

Founders Pledge


That is why we are challenging founders in Minnesota to make a Founders Pledge! The Founders Pledge is an international movement of founders dedicating equity to support nonprofits. This is a way for cash-strapped founders to provide impactful contributions to organizations they find important.

Local nonprofits stand to benefit greatly when pledging founders have big exits.

There are several existing structures and organizations, but basically, to make a Founders Pledge startup founders donate a portion of their future proceeds to local nonprofits. They give support to the organizations that support them. If the Founders Pledge becomes ingrained in the culture of our startups, it will create a virtuous cycle between successful startups and the people and organizations that help them succeed

Supporting the Startup Ecosystem


According to research on early-stage entrepreneurship from the Kauffman Foundation, Minnesota is lagging behind on 4 key indicators of success. Our rate of new entrepreneurs, opportunity share of new entrepreneurs, startup early job creation, and startup early survival rate are all below average, with our composite score putting us at 46th compared to the rest of the US.

Nonprofits are a vital part of supporting early-stage entrepreneurship, and creating favorable outcomes for founders. By contributing to their success, founders can increase the chances of their own and future startups’ success. Join the movement and Great North Labs in making a Founders Pledge!

Events

The holidays are a busy time for everyone! If you find some time between family and friends, here are some events worth attending: 

Portfolio News

Inhabitr closed a $4M dollar series A round, led by Great North Labs. The news of the Chicago-based furniture rental platform was covered in TechCrunch, and in this piece by ChicagoInno.

2ndKitchen closed a $4.35M round. This startup connects restaurant kitchens with kitchen-less venues, such as bars and breweries. Investors included Hyde Park Venture Partners, Math Ventures, and M25. 

Dispatch was named to CNBC’s Upstart 100, which includes “100 of the world’s most promising start-ups to watch in 2019”. Congratulations to the Dispatch team!

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring all over the country for Part Time Drivers and in Bloomington, MN for a Biz Dev Representative, HR Manager (Remote OK), Data Scientist, and CFO. 
Structural is hiring an Associate Software Engineer in Indianapolis or St. Paul, MN. 
TeamGenius is hiring a Sales Associate in Minneapolis. 
FactoryFix is hiring a Software Engineer, Product Designer, and UX Designer in Madison, and a Biz Dev Specialist and Account Manager in Chicago.
2ndKitchen is hiring a Customer Success Manager, Account Executive, and Director of Sales in Chicago. 
PrintWithMe is hiring a Customer Success Associate, Network Operations Specialist, and an Operations Lead in Chicago; Super User Technicians in Portland and Houston; and a Regional Sales Director for the West Coast.
Parallax is hiring a Customer Success Specialist, Quality Assurance Engineer, Senior Software Engineer, and for a Growth/Customer Acquisition role in Minneapolis. 
Branch is hiring a Content Marketing Manager, Settlement Analyst, Customer Support Agent, Customer Success Manager, and Senior Backend Engineer in Minneapolis. 

Twin Cities Startup Week kicks off tonight, and goes until October 16th! This is the biggest startup (event? happening?) anything in Minnesota every year, and TCSW 2019 is bigger than ever, with over 300 events. So what does a venture fund like Great North Labs have to do with it? Are we just wandering around writing checks? 

Oh, no. Oh ho ho ho ho NO.

1. BETA Showcase

Oct. 14th, from 7-9 pm at the DQ Club Room at TCF Bank Stadium

When Reed Robinson at BETA approached us about including Greater MN in Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW), we had some ideas.

This year, we helped BETA source and vet startups from around the state for the BETA Showcase, which regularly sells out (and which attracted 800 attendees last year!). For the first time ever, this premier event of TCSW will include 10 startups from Greater MN, in addition to the 14 from the BETA cohort. Who will take home the Golden iPod this year?!

While many demo events are industry or metro-specific, this will truly be a celebration of the state’s entire ecosystem. Come to eat, drink, and talk one-on-one with some of the hottest new founders in the state!

2. Greater MN Meetup

Oct. 14, from 5-6 pm at the “M” Club Room at TCF Bank Stadium

2019 is the first year focused on including Greater MN, so Great North Labs decided to help organize the Greater MN Meetup, with sponsors EPIQ Partners and Moss & Barnett.

This invite-only (request and invite at the link if you haven’t received one) pre-event gathering before the BETA Showcase will be a place for policy folks, business leaders, economic development pros, entrepreneurs, and investors interested in supporting the innovation and startup ecosystem statewide. It will also give all of the Showcase newcomers a place to gather with likeminded people before the craziness of the BETA Showcase.

Join us to connect with Greater MN stakeholders, and have a drink and snacks before the BETA Showcase!

3. Exponential Medicine

Oct. 14, from 1:30-2:30 pm at Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest

Ryan Weber is not only a Managing Partner at Great North Labs, but he is also the Co-Ambassador at SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul (SU-MSP), where he keeps up on digital transformation and exponential technologies.

The mission of SU-MSP includes educating people in the community around these topics. Exponential Medicine is part of the featured Health track, and we have gathered 3 cutting-edge local companies to speak about what they do, where they see the tech going, and the impact that will have in the future.

Come to learn about advanced tech in local medical companies StemoniX, Recombinetics, and Miromatrix Medical.

4. Exponential Medicine Moonshot Workshop

Oct. 14, from 3:00-4:00 pm at Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest

Another part of the mission of SU-MSP is to promote local moonshots using exponential tech to take on the world’s most pressing problems! This Moonshot Workshop will work on generating some of these big, transformative ideas with a health focus.

Ryan Weber will co-facilitate this workshop with fellow SU-MSP leadership team member Nick Tietz, Founder and CEO of ILT Studios.

Want to think outside of the box while brainstorming BIG ideas to make the world a better place? Join us for this session to not only learn how to generate these ideas, but to generate some yourself!

5. TCSW Awards Ceremony

Oct. 16, from 6-9 pm at the Science Museum of Minnesota

The Closing Party of Twin Cities Startup Week is going to be a blowout at the Science Museum. This will be the last hurrah of TCSW 2019!

Sign up separately to attend the TCSW Awards Ceremony from 6-7 pm. There are a variety of awards given out, and this year we are proud to be sponsoring the 10K Award. The award is for recognizing an organization, team, or individual fueling Minnesota’s startup ecosystem outside the greater MSP Area.

Vote for the 10K Award recipient here, and attend the event for the last goodbye to TCSW until 2020!

6. Partnerships Matter: Why Go it Alone if you Don’t Have to?

Oct. 11, from 10 am-12 pm at EPIQ Partners

Managing Partner Rob Weber will be speaking at EPIQ Partners alongside Neela Mollgaard, Director of Launch MN, and Matt Meents, former CEO of Magnet 360.

“Success rarely happens as a solo effort. Every entrepreneur must find and nurture partnerships along the way. From co-founders developing trust in early stages to finding the right advisors to track towards an exit, partnerships matter. Come and absorb from an informed group of experienced partners.” – from the event description that was so right-on it had to be directly quoted

Come to hear about the value of partnerships, and valuable partnerships.

7. Kind of all over the place

Great North Labs contributes to many organizations that are important to the local startup ecosystem including MN Cup (Final Awards ceremony on Oct. 14th!), Minnestar (Minnedemo 33 is Oct. 10th!), BETA (operational support for all of TCSW), and SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul.

A healthy ecosystem produces more startups, and we hope to grow it locally, while continuing to invest in early-stage startups throughout all of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. We are glad to see Twin Cities Startup Week growing in attendees, events, and sponsors, and by including startups from Greater MN!

Summer is coming to an end, but fall is shaping up to be a good time! The ever-growing Twin Cities Startup Week is October 9-16th this year, and the schedule is currently being finalized.

There are quality startups around the state that can use the exposure that comes with a slot at the top startup event of the largest startup gathering in the state (and one of the largest in the country!). This year Great North Labs has partnered with Beta to open up the Beta Showcase to Greater MN startups.

Beta Showcase


The Beta Showcase is a collection of top local startups, with roughly 18 spots available to metro and Greater MN startups this year. Hundreds of people gather to talk to the founders, network, drink, and vote on their favorite, with the winner announced at the end of the night. Tickets for the Showcase usually sell out, so be sure to get them well in advance. 

This is the first year Greater Minnesota startups will be highlighted during the Showcase event alongside metro startups. 

If you are a founder who is interested in the exposure and the experience that comes with this event – applications are open until August 30th. We are especially interested in any startups located outside the Minnesota metro area who want to take part. The Showcase is Monday, October 14th in the DQ Club at TCF Stadium in Minneapolis. Interested startups can apply here.

With this event expansion to Greater MN comes expanded sponsorship opportunities. If your company is interested in joining Great North Labs and Beta as we work to bring Greater MN into the startup ecosystem, simply reply to this email for more info. MN DEED has already grabbed the title sponsorship, but there are other opportunities available.

Events

With Twin Cities Startup Week on the horizon, it’s easy to overlook other events. Instead, look them over here:  

Sept. 10th, Beta’s Tournament of Champions Grand Finale in Minneapolis, MN. This competition is down to the Final Four, and the winner will walk away with $50,000. 

Sept. 16-17th, 2019 US FinTech Symposium in Chicago, IL. This educational event will focus on FinTech disruptors like AI and blockchain, while also featuring some Midwest startups. 

Sept. 17th, Cross-border investing: Wisconsin Tech Council Luncheon inUW-Eau Claire, WI. Great North Labs Analyst Mike Schulte will be presenting. 

Sept. 17th, MedCity Invest Digital Healthin Minneapolis, MN. This event, supported by our friends at the Medical Alley Association, “will unite active investors with corporate business development executives to facilitate investment opportunities with the most innovative companies from the Digital Health sector.”  

Oct. 8-9th, Fall Experiment in Milwaukee, WI.This is a gathering of tech and creatives with focuses on “Tech, Art, Gaming, Music”.

Oct. 9-16th, Twin Cities Startup Week in Minneapolis, MN. This is the largest startup gathering annually in Minnesota, featuring dozens of events at multiple venues around the city, including: 

Oct. 10th, Innovation Expo inSioux Falls, SD. Great North Labs partner Ryan Weber will be speaking during the Finance Panel.

Portfolio News

Great North Labs advisor Neela Mollgaard was named the head of Launch Minnesota! The new state program will provide incentives, training, and grants for new startups across the state. 

Portfolio News

ZapInfo raised $1.75M in a Series Seed 2 funding round, which included new investor Randstad Innovation Fund. They have grown by over 400% in the last 12 months since Doug Berg took over as CEO. 

Misty the robot (of Misty Robotics) took a road trip to Twilio SIGNAL 2019. You can check out the trip recap here. One developer who took Misty for a spin said, “I don’t usually program robots because it’s hard, and not very fun. But this was super fun and easy, so, I’m definitely going to pick one up.” 

Job Board

Dispatchis hiring all over the country for Drivers and locally for Engineers, Biz Dev, QA, UX, Accounts Receivable, and a CFO. 
Structural is hiring a Customer Success Specialist, and a Software Sales & Operations Support Specialist
FactoryFixis hiring a Software Engineer in Madison, and a Business Development Specialist and an Account Manager in Chicago.
Pitchly is hiring a Product Designer in Des Moines (preferably) or the Upper Midwest. 
Misty Robotics is hiring a Devops Engineer and Principal Electrical Engineer in Boulder, CO. 
PrintWithMe is hiring a Marketing Manager and NOC Tech Support Technician in Chicago, and a Regional Sales Director. 

July is over! This is the moment where summer fun planning always turns a little earnest, when we try to store up every last bit of Vitamin D and fish protein we can to last the upcoming season-which-shall-not-be-named. There’s still fun to be had, and we took some time out of the sun recently to attend some great local events. 


Talking VC


Great North Labs partner Rob Weber spoke at Enterprise Rising with Mary Grove, partner in Revolution’s Rise of the Rest seed fund. Enterprise Rising is an annual event for Midwest enterprise tech startups that was created by Great North Labs advisor Casey Allen. Rob and Mary’s talk was a VC-to-VC chat about what they look for in investments, including specifics like important tools for metrics and defining product/market fit, and about their respective funds. They also talked about the region in general. As Rob said, “We’re punching above our weight, but just not telling that story well.” 

See Blue Raven Digital’s recap notes/video from the talk here.

Ecosystem connections

Forge North is not only dedicated to connecting and supporting the local innovation ecosystem, but also to telling the story about our region better than it has been told before. Forge North’s event, Horizon, was a debut for the coalition dedicated to supporting Minnesota innovators and entrepreneurs. An initiative of Greater MSP, its mission is: “We accelerate growth by inclusively connecting and proudly celebrating the individuals and organizations growing Minnesota ventures, and we equip these partners with tools to measure progress and dream bigger together.” They operate a dashboard that visualizes some key metrics for the regional innovation economy, which is useful for data-driven stories as well as being valuable information. You can see a video explaining the initiative here.

Supporting the next generation
 

We also ran into Mary Grove at Silicon North Stars Demo Day at Fueled Collective on July 23rd. She and her husband, MN DEED Commissioner Steve Grove, run the non-profit Silicon North Stars which operates a tech camp for 9th graders. Their mission is to inspire and educate young Minnesotans to become future leaders in technology. The camp ends with a demo day every year, and the solutions the teenagers come up with are always surprisingly well-thought. The impact on the kids is palpable, as they invariably talk about the confidence, knowledge, and inspiration they gain from the experience. Great North Labs is a proud sponsor of this organization. 

Events

It’s hard to spend too much time indoors in August, but there are some events worth stepping inside for.

Portfolio News

Plyo is new to the Great North Labs portfolio. Plyo is a rewards app that encourages students to use their campus recreation center in exchange for points that can be redeemed for offers from a variety of merchants. It provides motivation for students to lead a healthy lifestyle, while allowing businesses to engage with the active college student customer segment in a positive way. 

Job Board

Dispatchis hiring all over the country for Field Sales Representatives and Drivers. In Bloomington, MN, they are hiring a variety of positions including an Executive Assistant, an Accounts Receivable Specialist, Support Engineer, Sr. UX Designer, Biz Dev Rep, and a CFO!
Structural is hiring a Customer Success Specialist.
FactoryFixis hiring a Software Engineer in Madison, and sales roles in Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis.
Misty Robotics is hiring a CFO, Devops Engineer, Principal Electrical Engineer, and a Sr. Software Engineer in Boulder. 
pepr ishiring for Biz Dev – Outbound Sales in Minneapolis.  
PrintWithMe is hiring a Customer Success Manager, Biz Dev Executive, and interns for Strategy and Marketing/Operations

The Innovation Ecosystem


At Great North Labs, we work to cultivate the next generation of leading tech companies across the upper Midwest. As a venture fund, this means deploying capital, providing startup intelligence, and utilizing our network to support and grow early-stage tech startups. We also provide low-cost training through our Startup School, in areas that we perceive an educational need, such as our Lean Startup Bootcamp currently running in St. Cloud. 

This sort of development can’t occur through a singular entity, however, so Great North Labs supports a variety of impactful elements that are key to developing the tech community and innovation ecosystem. SingularityU, with 156 global chapters in 68 countries, is one of those organizations that we believe can be valuable to developing a transformative, globally competitive innovation ecosystem here in our region.

SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter  is an official member of the SingularityU global community, and is committed to inspire and educate leaders to solve Grand Challenges (e.g. Clean Water Access, Disaster Resilience) by leveraging Exponential Technologies (e.g. AI, blockchain, robotics).

Great North Labs Managing Partner Ryan Weber is an alumnus of the SingularityU Executive Program, and regularly speaks throughout the region on exponential technology. He is a founding board member and Co-Ambassador of the SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter (SU-MSP).

The chapter is holding its Kickoff this Tuesday, June 4th, from 5:30-8:30 at the Carlson School of Management. The event is to kick off greater collaboration and discussion around the use of exponential technologies for social good with local businesses, innovators, and entrepreneurs. Tickets are free and open to the public.

Speakers include:

MN DEED policy update

Speaking of innovation ecosystems, Google/YouTube alum Steve Grove is actively working to develop Minnesota’s. MN DEED will hold a legislative session wrap-up to talk about new initiatives coming with the new MN state budget. The wrap-up will be in a Facebook Live session on this Friday at noon:

In a series of Tweets, Commissioner Steve Grove said, ”The 2019 #mnleg jobs bill empowers @mndeed to help build future of MN economy:

-Angel Tax Credit is back
-New program “Launch Minnesota” to grow startups
-$40M in Broadband grants
@SciTechMN Internships & robotics programs
-Regional startup centers”

Events

June 4th– SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter (SU-MSP) Kickoff. This event will kick off collaboration and discussion around the use of exponential technologies for the greater good with local businesses, innovators, and entrepreneurs in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Great North Labs Managing Partner Ryan Weber also serves as the Co-Ambassador of the SU-MSP chapter, and will emcee the event. 

June 6th– Polsky Innovation Showcase. Part of UChicago Innovation Fest, this event is the culmination of the New Venture Challenge at the University of Chicago, one of the top college startup accelerator programs in the country. Great North Labs Analyst Mike Schulte will be at the event and available for meetings. 

June 10-11th– 2019 Upper Midwest ACG Capital Connection. This gathering in Minneapolis is for middle market professionals involved in corporate growth and M&A.

June 19th– OnRamp Healthcare Conference. Put on by gener8tor, this conference is focused on healthcare innovation, and will be at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI.

June 20th– Initiative Foundation Lunch and Learn. Ryan Weber will be presenting on disruption and innovation in the nonprofit sector at this community event in St. Cloud, MN. 

June 21-23– ConnectUp!. “ConnectUP! MN is a two-day, culturally grounded gathering of curated underestimated entrepreneurs and investors that: learn and share with each other, engage in relationship-building, provide best and next practices from the field, as well as engage in active problem solving to build thriving, diverse, and sustainable enterprises and co-design an ecosystem that prioritizes equitable access to resources, capital and networks.” It is held in St. Paul. 

Portfolio

PrintWithMe is new to the Great North labs portfolio. PrintWithMe is mobile-first kiosk printing for coffee shops, residential buildings, co-working spaces and anywhere pay-to-print printers are offered. This user-friendly service simplifies printing for customers, and makes providing a printer amenity easy for businesses. 

Advisors

Three Great North Labs advisors are new to the team

Carson Kipfer is the Principal Designer and co-founder at SportsEngine. He is also the Co-Commissioner of the US Pond Hockey Championships. 

Andy Johnson is the former CEO of NativeX. Before that, he was the President of Fingerhut’s Ecommerce division. 

Patrick Riley is a film producer, and the former CEO and co-founder of Modern Survey Inc., and the former CEO and founder of Cyber Works Inc. 


Our advisor, Julie Novack, had her startup PartySlate featured in Newsweek recently.

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring all over the country (26 cities!) for Field Sales Representatives and Drivers. In Bloomington MN, they are hiring Software Engineers, Biz Dev, and a marketing intern. 

Structural is hiring a Node/JavaScript Engineer, a React Engineer, and a Digital Marketing Analyst.

TeamGenius is hiring a part-time Customer Success Associate in Minneapolis. 

FactoryFix is hiring a Software Engineer in Madison, WI, and a Business Development Specialist and an Account Managers in Chicago.

Misty Robotics is hiring a Manufacturing and Repair Engineer and a Robot Repair Technician II to IV, in Boulder, CO. 

pepr is hiring for Biz Dev – Outbound Sales in Minneapolis. 

2ndKitchen is hiring a City Lead and a Full-Stack Developer in Brooklyn. 

PrintWithMe is hiring a Business Development Executive, a Customer Success Manager, a Strategy Intern, and a Marketing and Operations Intern

Entrepreneurship is a proven capital-efficient way to build economic value and transform regions. Great North Labs believes that venture investment guided by a policy framework is the most efficient way to develop regional economies across Minnesota and the upper Midwest. Locally employing tech natives entering the workforce, and retraining the current workforce into tech roles with on-the-job training, is the most durable and sustainable way to build the economies in the region. We are hoping to invest at least 10% of our investments in opportunities that can deliver high returns and serve social criteria. Let us know if you know of a high-return, high-impact startup we should look at.

Is it spring already? Where is the late-April blizzard? Ah well, there’s always a surprise October snow to look forward to. 

MinneBar 14 was this past weekend, with 1700+ tech enthusiasts gathering at Best Buy HQ for the best local tech event this side of Twin Cities Startup Week. As they say, a good time was had by all. Our recap will walk you through the highlights and show you why we love it.

Speaking of Twin Cities Startup Week, mark your calendar for this October 9-16th. It’s going to be a good one this year. And hopefully snow-free!

Rob Weber has been supporting entrepreneurs in St. Cloud and hanging out with the GovernorRead all about it on the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation’s website.

Great North Labs Managing Partner Rob Weber with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.

While you’re at it, do a little supporting yourself by contacting your state rep about supporting the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative. Steve Grove, MN DEED’s commissioner, has some big plans, and he knows a thing or two about both public policy and supporting entrepreneurship. 

Mary Grove does too, as the former director of Google for Entrepreneurs. She was on-hand at MinneBar to present “VC Reverse Pitch” with Rob Weber, where they shared metrics and qualifications they look when investing as VC’s. Mary, a partner in Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, also spoke about partnering with Great North Labs, “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.” 

Speaking of ecosystem building, a great article came out comparing Sioux Falls and Fargo. Sioux Falls and Fargo: Two Approaches to Building Startup Ecosystems. It’s a great intro for anyone interested in the tech and entrepreneurship communities in the two cities, or for anyone interested in practical examples over theory.

Upcoming Events

Beta Showcase Spring 2019-May 8th, Minneapolis, MN. It is “a science fair for startups, with beer and music”.  

Minnesota Entrepreneur Kickoff – May 14th, Fort Snelling, MN. This annual event is devoted to growing the MN entrepreneur ecosystem. Ryan Weber will be presenting on Exponential Technology. 

5 Lakes Forum– May 14th, Milwaukee, WI. “5 LAKES Forum is a launchpad for tech and startup leaders from the Great Lakes region to create meaningful connections and navigate high-level business and technology topics.”

EntreFest – May 16-17th, Cedar Rapids, IA. A two-day conference for entrepreneurship and innovation professionals. Ryan Weber will appear on two investor panels, and will also be speaking on Exponential Technology.

Drone Focus – May 29th, Fargo, ND. This conference is expanding their focus to include the infrastructure, software, systems, and resources for autonomous systems. It is put on annually by Emerging Prairie.

Lean Startup Bootcamp – May 29th-June 19th, St. Cloud, MN. Join Great North Labs for our Lean Startup Bootcamp to level-up your skills as an entrepreneur, a product manager, or student of innovation. This work-friendly training is from 6-8:30 p.m. for four consecutive Wednesdays. 

SingularityU Minneapolis-St.Paul Chapter Kickoff – June 4th, Minneapolis, MN. Join chapter co-ambassador Ryan Weber for the inaugural event of this organization, one of only 2 Midwest chapters of a total 142 chapters in 66 countries worldwide. SU-MSP is focused on education, networking and community, with a mission to work to solve the world’s most pressing problems with exponential technologies. (Signup and Speakers TBD).

Portfolio Action

ZenLord Pro is live with a new website. The landlord management software startup also has a flashy new explainer video, in case you’re looking for an easy way to manage your rentals or just need to understand what it is, exactly, that they do. 

New Advisors

Six Great North Labs advisors are new to the team

Nick Tietz is the former Director of New Business Development and Innovation at Life Time Fitness, and is a co-founder of VariAware, LLC and Vitals Aware Services. Nick is the founder of The Sota Enterprises, where works with companies and startup founders to turn ideas into assets. Among other things, he partners with Great North on Innovation Workshops.


Aaron Kardell is Founder & CEO of HomeSpotter, which is a “relationship engine” for brokers, real estate agents, and clients. 
He is the former founder & CEO of Mobile Realty Apps, and co-founder of Deals.by.


Casey Carl is CEO and founder of North Coast Ventures, a strategic advising and early stage venture investment company. He is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors at Minnesota health nonprofit MATTER.


Thompson Aderinkomi is co-founder and CEO of Nice Healthcare, which is a primary care clinic that provides care through in-home and remote video visits. He also co-founded Relate, and is a former co-founder and board member of Healthcare.mn.


Bryan Laskin is the founder of Operability, LLC, which is leading development for cloud based communications for the healthcare industry. He is also the SVP of Innovation for Dental Care Alliance, and co-founder of Talentship.


Scott Resnick is theCOO of Hardin Design & Development, and is the current Entrepreneur is Residence at StartingBlock Madison. He is also the former Executive Director of StartingBlock, which is an entrepreneurial hub in Madison (similar to 1871 in Chicago).

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring all over the country for Field Sales Representatives and Drivers and for a variety of positions in Bloomington, MN. 
Structural is hiring a Digital Marketing Specialist in St.Paul.
TeamGenius is hiring a Part-time Customer Success Associate in Minneapolis. 
FactoryFix is hiring a Software Engineer in Madison, and a Business Development Specialist, Business Development Manager, and a Key Accounts Manager in Chicago.
Misty Robotics is hiring a Head of Hardware and a Manufacturing and Repair Engineer in Boulder. 
Pepr is hiring for Business Development – Outbound Sales in Minneapolis. 
2ndKitchen is hiring a City Lead and a Full-Stack Developer in Brooklyn, NY.

May newsletter
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$40M Fund II Raised!

Great North Ventures Raises $40M Fund II
Great North Ventures

Great North Ventures Raises $40 Million Fund II

Investment Thesis: Fund II Strategy
Great North Ventures

Investment Thesis: Fund II Strategy

Investment Thesis: Community-Driven Applications
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Investment Theme: Community-Driven Applications

Great North Labs Newsletter December 2017
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Great North Labs Newsletter – December 2017

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Rob Weber

A Letter To My Younger Self

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Great North Labs Newsletter