Welcome to our first newsletter of 2021! 

In our look back on the past year in our last newsletter, we talked about resilient startups, the pandemic, and capacity building.  We reflected on our own efforts, and then we started thinking about the startup ecosystem as a whole. 

We’ve talked extensively about nonprofit organizations that support startups (and our support of them through our Founders Pledge), and we have talked about government contributions (such as the not-yet-passed New Business Preservation Act, the Angel Tax Credit, and LaunchMN).

But what about our educational institutions? 

In our region, the University of Chicago and Northwestern University have well-known startup competitions, and their business schools churn out founders. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is in the top 10 for US research institutions, and the city has seen an influx of tech talent in the last year.

But what about the University of Minnesota?
 

How the U of MN is Embracing Startup Culture


The University of Minnesota Twin Cities (U of MN) campus is the 6th largest university in the US, with 50,000+ students. It has a ~$4B endowment and 485,000 alumni living around the world. It has produced 165+ startups since 2006, attracting $1.15B in capital investment. 7 have gone public since 2017.

How is the U of MN doing it? What are the programs, who are the people, and why is it working? 

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

As we have taught with, co-invested, judged, advised,  and otherwise partnered with the U of MN over the years, Great North Labs has seen what things are working. Here are our top 4 observations:

1. John Stavig is a leader in the tech startup community.
2. MN Cup is elevating the entire startup scene.  
3. Atland Ventures provides students real VC experience.
4. The U of MN has a proliferation of startup support efforts across disciplines.


Read the full story.

MN Cup Director Jessica Berg is one of the first episodes of our new stealth podcast project. Hear from Berg and other people in the startup ecosystem who are executing in their niche, when we drop the first episodes!
 


MEDA Million Dollar Challenge Winners


The Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) holds a national contest every year for BIPOC founders. This year, the Million Dollar Challenge awarded $1.1M in financing to six startups. 

The winners are: 

Mi Terro (City of Industry, CA) – $300,000
Femly (Baltimore, MD) – $250,000
Flourish Savings (Berkley, CA) – $150,000
Options MD (Los Angeles, CA) – $150,000
Please Assist Me (Washington, DC) – $150,000
Industrack (Plymouth, MN) – $100,000

Over the years MEDA has helped launch 500+ BIPOC-owned businesses with the potential to scale. The organization has assisted 20,000 minority entrepreneurs in Minnesota alone. 

Events

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

Portfolio News

EmpowerU is new to the Great North Labs portfolio! EmpowerU is an online social-emotional learning organization that creates sustainable empowerment and therapeutic programming for students.

Twin Cities entrepreneur develops mental health website for teens”. Read about Empower U from Neal St. Anthony at the Star Tribune. Or here: “EdTech Makes Mental Healthcare Accessible for Students: How EmpowerU Works to Meet Students’ COVIDE Needs”.

“Tech for Change: At CES 2021, new devices and tech aim to help beat COVID-19”. Misty Robotics is making waves during the pandemic edition of CES. 
    
“PrintWithMe Deployed Portfolio-Wide by JMG Realty, Inc.” PrintWithMe is launching across 85 apartment communities reaching 30,000 apartment homes. 
 

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring

Business Development Representative & Territory Sales Manager- REMOTE
HR Intern, Driver Engagement Intern, Enterprise Sales & Alliances Intern, Driver Engagement Intern, Customer Experience Intern, Business Development Intern- BLOOMINGTON, MN

Structural is hiring
Marketing and Sales Intern- REMOTE or in ST. PAUL, MN

FactoryFix is hiring
Team Lead – Full Stack Developer, Full Stack Developer, & Infrastructure Developer- DevOps- MADISON, WI

TeamGenius is hiring
Customer Success Manager, and Lead Engineer-Mobile Development-  MINNEAPOLIS, MN

PrintWithMe is hiring
Regional Multifamily Housing Sales Director (East Coast)- PHILADELPHIA, PA
Regional Multifamily Housing Sales Director (East Coast)- WASHINGTON, D.C.
Regional Multifamily Housing Sales Director (South East)- ATLANTA, GA
Regional Multifamily Housing Sales Director (West Coast)- SACRAMENTO, CA
Director of Demand Generation, Printer & Implementation Technician, Part-time Warehouse Associate, Strategy Intern (MBA)- CHICAGO, IL

Branch is hiring
Senior iOS Engineer, Android Engineer, Enterprise Support Representative- REMOTE
Consumer Marketing Manager, Account Executive (Mid-Market)- MINNEAPOLIS, MN

Inhabitr is hiring
Chief Growth Officer/Head of B2C Growth Sales and Customer Experience Associate- CHICAGO, IL

Clinician Nexus is hiring
Customer Success Manager- MINNEAPOLIS, MN

NoiseAware is hiring
QA Technician (independent contractor), Senior Director of Software Engineering- DALLAS, TX
Data Scientist, Scrum Master Dallas, People Operations Generalist- REMOTE or DALLAS/AUSTIN, TX

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.  

It’s a wrap for Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW), Minnesota’s largest annual startup event. How big is it? In 2019 the event attracted 17,000 people to over 200 sessions. This year, the event stretched nearly a month as it went virtual for the first time. 

Startup Competition Winners

One of two big competitions during TCSW is the MN Startup Awards, a joint venture between Tech.MN and TCSW. The winners this year included Canomiks (Emerging Startup), Maddy Kennedy (Impact Award), BetterYou (Operational Excellence) SayKid (Voyager Award), Black Tech Talent (The Inclusive Evolution Award), and Target Accelerators Team (Corporate Champion). 

Great North Labs sponsored the 10K Lakes Award for Greater Minnesota for the second year in a row, which recognizes work supporting startups in Greater MN. MN Cup took home the award this year!

We are proud to support MN Cup through our Founders Pledge, where Rob Weber also judges the High Tech division, and are pleased with the recognition of their success. MN Cup wound up their own competition on Sept. 23rd, with top honors going to BlueCube Bio

The winner of this year’s 10K Lakes Award for Greater Minnesota Startups is MN Cup. Director Jessica Berg accepted the award. 

The other big competition of TCSW is the BETA Showcase, which routinely attracts 800+ attendees. This year featured 21 startups, including 7 startups from Greater MN. The winner of the coveted Golden iPod was Bibliate, a Minneapolis-based provider of academic research summaries.

gBETA Greater MN-St. Cloud

The accelerator program gBETA Greater MN-St. Cloud has announced its fall class. The class includes startups from around the state. Sproutary is from Kimball, Shrpa is from Rochester, LegalMaps is from Edina, and Live.Give.Save is from Red Wing.

This class has some accomplishments under its belt already, as Shrpa took home 2 dedicated awards form MN Cup this year, and Live.Give.Save is the winner of last year’s inaugural 10K Lakes Award.

$2M Pitch Competition for Black founders

Revolution’s Rise of the Rest (ROTR) is partnering with Opportunity Hub, 100 Black Angels & Allies, and Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab to fund Black-founders via the “Rise of the Rest Virtual Tour: Equity Edition”. $2M in investments will go to the top 3 companies. 

Please share this event with your network! It’s a great opportunity for Black founders in the Upper Midwest to connect with investors and resources, and to have a chance at a big check! Great North Labs has partnered with ROTR to help connect capital with Black founders, and Rob Weber be taking pitch meetings during the event.

Great North Labs + Vikings Football = $$ for Minnestar

For every point the Vikings score this season, we are matching up to $5 in donations to Minnestar! Give as little as 10 cents per point, and know that it will be matched, benefitting one of Minnesota’s top startup support organizations. 

The campaign started on September 1st (when the Vikes were 0-0) and continues until the day after the Super Bowl, because hey, you have to believe! This campaign is through local startup ScoreSide, which connects sports with philanthropy.

It’s important to support the organizations that support our startups. Times are challenging. While we believe there’s a shortage of early-stage capital in the region, we also think that right now is a great time to build a startup

Events

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

Portfolio News

River’s Edge participates in new robotic technology pilot program for screening COVID-19. Misty the robot is being used to screen hospital employees for COVID-19. 

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

Job Board

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

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.

PrintWithMe ishiring Regional Sales Directors on the East Coast and in Texas; AR/AP Specialist and Operations Lead in Chicago, IL; VS/SVP of Operations, Marketing Director, Part-Time Customer Service Representative, Inside Sales Executive and a Fall 2020 Strategy Intern (MBA) for Remote work.

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

Branch is hiring a Data Platform Manager, Senior Software Engineer, Customer Success Manager, Customer Support Rep, Enterprise Support Specialist, and Fraud Agent 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 VP of Global Sales & Customer Experience, Embedded Developer, QA Technician (independent contractor), Account Manager, and a Customer Advocate in Dallas, TX.

With unemployment soaring, small businesses shuttering, and even some large chains withholding rent, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are reverberating through our communities. Many people wait on relief from the government in the form of stimulus payments and unemployment benefits. Businesses scramble to secure emergency loans, payroll support, and new ways to gain revenue. Oftentimes lost among other dire news is the plight of nonprofits and charities, who languish as donations dry up and revenue-producing events are put on hold.

Cash and Equity Giving

Jack Dorsey’s $1 billion equity pledge is an eye-catching reminder of how important it is to support these causes and organizations now if you are able to. Many are dependent on revenue from events that can’t happen and donations from disposable income that has evaporated. Our Founders Pledge is built on the idea of baking giving into your venture as part of your short-term and long-term financial plans, to support your community, and to support the organizations that support you with a mix of cash and equity giving.

One nonprofit that can use your support at this time is the CentraCare Foundation. From now until May 30th, your donation to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund will be doubled, due in part to a gift from our partners Ryan and Rob Weber.

Time and Effort Giving

During this time many businesses and leaders have risen to the challenge to support their communities through non-cash/non-equity donations. Our portfolio companies are also active in the fight, supporting local businesses, hospitals, and healthcare workers on the frontline. Here are four examples of their work.

1. Dispatch launched same day delivery for local businesses. This service aims to help alleviate supply chain difficulties during the pandemic

2. 2ndKitchen launched a new service to offer delivery for bars and breweries. This is a lifeline for these businesses when they have to be closed, with 2go allowing bars and breweries to sell beer, food, and merchandise for pickup or delivery- for free.

2ndKitchen's 2Go

Clinician Nexus partnered with MN COVIDsitters to provide the technology platform that connects volunteer medical students with healthcare workers to provide free childcare during the pandemic.

4. PrintWithMe is holding a Face Mask Drive. The face masks, unused N95 masks as well as simple surgical masks, are being supplied to Chicago-area hospitals.

Giving for a Better Future

In consideration of the pandemic, the Webers have expanded the list of colleges they support to include North Hennepin Community College (NHCC), one of the largest Minnesota State colleges serving a very diverse student body with many low-income students. Ryan and Rob are alumni of NHCC, where they gained the skills that helped them bootstrap their own startup.

The Webers have donated $10,000 to NHCC’s Foundation to directly aid Graphic Design students studying product design, a program they see as well-positioned to fill the large UI/UX design talent gap in Minnesota and the surrounding region. Their support of this program goes beyond money to include volunteering as mentors, promoting awareness of NHCC’s Graphic Design program, and using their networks to help students connect with internships and employment opportunities.

We continue to support and evolve our own educational initiative aimed at filling the gap of disciplined startup education in the region, formerly known as the Great North Labs Startup School. The programming is now known by a variety of names, and collectively as the Lean Startup School. The new iterations have come about by partnering with Red Wing Ignite and ILT Studios. These partners have allowed us to develop the programming as a white-label offering to communities around the state, with a particular emphasis on Greater Minnesota. There are two cohorts currently, in St. Cloud and Red Wing, with more planned for the future.

Lean Startup School

We will get through this crisis, one way or another. Whether or not the federal government gets behind legislation that supports startups with an influx of capital, such as the New Business Preservation Act, there is a broad community of entrepreneurial support and a healthy, growing startup ecosystem in the region. We will continue to cultivate transformative innovations, successful entrepreneurs, and tech startups in the Upper Midwest!

Valuable startup ecosystem organizations we support include MN Cup, Beta.MN, Minnestar, SCSU University Foundation, College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, gBETA Greater MN-St. Cloud, SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Silicon North Stars. If you also find them valuable and you are able, please consider giving to them during this time of need!


Welcome back to the Great North Labs newsletter! 2019 has been a big year for us. We invested $5.7M in 10 startups, including six in Minnesota, three in Illinois, and one in Wisconsin. That brings our totals to date to $8M in 18 early-stage startups throughout the upper Midwest, and one in Colorado. 

Other than investing, the past year has been full of great events, important developments, and growth. Here are our top 5 stories of 2019. 

Top 5 Stories of 2019

1. The year started with a bang, as we closed our debut fund. Our $23.7M raise is one of the largest debut venture funds ever raised in the Midwest. You can read about it on our site, at VentureBeat, or hereherehereherehere, and elsewhere.

2. Minnebar is one of the largest tech gatherings annually in Minnesota. Put on by Minnestar, the bar camp (similar to an un-conference) attracted 1,700 local tech professionals to Best Buy HQ. Not only is it a popular event, it’s a fun event to present at. Read our recap

3. Launch MN took off with Red Wing Ignite alumnus Neela Mollgaard at the helm. The MN DEED initiative aims to grow the innovation ecosystem around the state (their application for education funding grants has recently been extended to January 17th, FYI). Watch Great North Labs’s Ryan Weber speak to state legislators and Gov. Walz at the Launch MN Kickoff. 

4. Twin Cities Startup Week was a huge success this year, with 16,000 attendees and over 200 events. We partnered with TCSW organizer BETA.MN to expand the BETA Showcase to include Greater MN for the first time. 10 startups from Greater MN exhibited, and ecosystem supporters from around the state were brought together beforehand at the Greater MN Meetup. Read more in our newsletter here, and about all of the other things we did during TCSW.

5. Finally, our year has ended with a call to giving. We’ve challenged the startup community to commit to a founders pledge, to ensure the support of the nonprofits that support founders. It’s a virtuous cycle, and we want to see it become a part of our startup ecosystem. Read more about the founders pledge here.

Also, consider donating to Minnestar at this time. Our advisor, Daren Cotter, is currently matching donations up to $10k

The developments in 2019 have been fantastic, including fund growth, state policy changes, growing tech events, and nonprofit support.

“I am interested in paying it forward to the MN Tech community that has been so much a part of the success of InboxDollars. I support Minnestar’s mission and the dedicated people who are executing it every day.

I truly believe that vibrant and growing tech community benefits all its stakeholders. Minnestar and its excellent team are dedicated to executing this mission every day, and I’m proud to support them. I’m excited to see our community continue to grow, and I hope this match campaign will be a small part of that! I can’t wait to see what the great entrepreneurs and technologists in MN are going to build next.” –Daren Cotter (via Minnestar)

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

Clinician Nexus is the newest addition to the Great North Labs portfolio. Read about their $1.5M round in the Star Tribune. Clinician Nexus provides health systems, schools, and students with a transparent, people-centered platform that facilitates better clinical rotation management, from start to finish. 

Job Board

Dispatchis hiring all over the country for Part Time Drivers and in Bloomington, MN for a Biz Dev Representative, 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. 
FactoryFixis hiring a Software Engineer, Product Designer, and UX Designer in Madison, and a Biz Dev Specialist and Account Manager in Chicago.
Misty Roboticsis hiring a Lead Qualification & Inside Sales Specialist, and a Inside Sales Specialist (contract) in Boulder, CO. 
2ndKitchen is hiring a Customer Success Manager, Account Executive, and Director of Sales in Chicago. 
PrintWithMe ishiring a Customer Success Associate, Network Operations Specialist, Inside Sales Executive, 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. 
Branchis hiring a UX Designer, Content Marketing Manager, Settlement Analyst, Software Engineer, Customer Support Agent, Customer Success Manager, and a Senior Backend Engineer in Minneapolis. 

1. The year started with a bang, as we closed our debut fund. Our $23.7M raise is one of the largest debut venture funds ever raised in the Midwest. You can read about it on our site, at VentureBeat, or here, here, here, here, here, and elsewhere.

2. Minnebar is one of the largest tech gatherings annually in Minnesota. Put on by Minnestar, the bar camp (similar to an un-conference) attracted 1,700 local tech professionals to Best Buy HQ. Not only is it a popular event, it’s a fun event to present at. Read our recap

3. Launch MN took off with Red Wing Ignite alumnus Neela Mollgaard at the helm. The MN DEED initiative aims to grow the innovation ecosystem around the state (their application for education funding grants has recently been extended to January 17th, FYI). Watch Great North Labs’s Ryan Weber speak to state legislators and Gov. Walz at the Launch MN Kickoff. 

4. Twin Cities Startup Week was a huge success this year, with 16,000 attendees and over 200 events. We partnered with TCSW organizer BETA.MN to expand the BETA Showcase to include Greater MN for the first time. 10 startups from Greater MN exhibited, and ecosystem supporters from around the state were brought together beforehand at the Greater MN Meetup. Read more in our newsletter here, and about all of the other things we did during TCSW.

5. Finally, our year has ended with a call to giving. We’ve challenged the startup community to commit to a founders pledge, to ensure the support of the nonprofits that support founders. It’s a virtuous cycle, and we want to see it become a part of our startup ecosystem. Read more about the founders pledge here.

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. 

By Rob and Ryan Weber

Where do startups come from, and how can we encourage more of them? Whether you believe in clustering or building a rainforest, one thing is for sure: startups don’t materialize out of nowhere, nor do they always succeed on their own.

Importance of Startups

A healthy local startup ecosystem drives both new startup formation and their chances of success. Unfortunately, according to research available from the Kauffman Foundation on early-stage entrepreneurship, Minnesota is below average on every state-wide indicator. 

This is incredibly important because between 1980 and 2010, about half of all jobs created in the US were from high-growth startups. 2.9 million were created per year on average, according to the National Venture Capital Association. In the Upper Midwest, each startup produces approximately 4 jobs in their first year of business. 



The Kauffman Early-Stage Entrepreneurship Index is an equally weighted index of four indicators of entrepreneurship activity: rate of new entrepreneurs, opportunity share of new entrepreneurs, startup early job creation, and startup early survival rate. Minnesota ranks 46th. Source: 2018 State Report on Early-Stage Entrepreneurship

Founders Pledge

So how can a cash-strapped startup founder help? Take a Founders Pledge! The Founders Pledge is a popular movement driven by founders around the world. It came about because startups don’t have cash, but have enormous potential for value creation in their equity. Popular options include the Founders Pledge organization, where founders make a pledge of at least 2 percent of their personal proceeds to nonprofits, or Marc Benioff’s Pledge 1% which encourages founders to pledge 1% each of equity, time, product, and profit.

By taking the Founders Pledge, founders align a long-term commitment to do good with the success of their tech startup, and to the success of the entire ecosystem. Imagine if every time a local tech startup exited, that meant money went into local nonprofits? 

MN Founders Pledge Challenge

While many startup founders support, actively engage with, and lead local nonprofits, we think it’s also important to support these organizations in a meaningful financial way. Time is an excellent donation, but an equity pledge is meaningful support that creates a shared interest in mutual success. 

We believe this is so important that we are challenging other Minnesota startup founders to make a Founders Pledge! All it takes is pledging a percentage of your proceeds to nonprofits. It’s that simple.

Within your first 12-24 months of operation either go through the Founders Pledge, Pledge 1%, or structure your own pledge.  We have chosen to structure our own pledge, and are willing to provide advice and referrals to the local legal and accounting professionals who helped us structure our giving.

The Value to Nonprofits

Our own pledge is to give at least 2 percent of our own personal interests from our $23.7M debut venture fund to Minnesota nonprofits. As Great North Labs’s portfolio grows and has exits, our nonprofit partners will benefit alongside our fund’s investors. For example, if a $10,000 equity pledge is made to a nonprofit today, and the fund returns a 5X multiple over its life, the $10,000 pledge will return $50,000 to the nonprofit over the fund’s life. This allows us to support local organizations in a meaningful way without sacrificing liquidity. 

The same type of equity multiplier can apply when a founder pledges some of their equity, and it creates the possibility of creating sustaining legacy gifts in the event of large exits. For example, if a company has a $2B exit (like Michigan’s Duo Security in 2018), and a founder with 20% equity has made the Founders Pledge, that is an $8M dollar influx for local nonprofits. While big exits like this are rare, if the Founders Pledge becomes part of our culture in Minnesota and across the Upper Midwest, then large gifts like this become inevitable.

Local nonprofits can reap huge benefits from a cash-equivalent equity donation.

Supporting the Ecosystem

There are many aspects to a productive startup ecosystem, such as access to capital (part of why we founded Great North Labs), that are important. But it’s important to remember that these “aspects” aren’t just monolithic categories to fill in and check off of a list- they are individuals and organizations pursuing their own missions, with their own motivations.

These individuals and organizations are vital parts of the startup ecosystem, and include a variety of people, structures, and missions. While for-profit entities can self-support, nonprofits are dependent on donations.

Nonprofits we Support

As Managing Partners of Great North Labs, we’ve identified several nonprofits that we believe are making an impact not only in the Twin Cities, but in St. Cloud and throughout the entire state. We support them variously with time, cash, and equity pledges. While other founders undoubtedly have different lists of who they find personally impactful, this is ours:

A Virtuous Cycle

Together, our equity donations will provide considerable upside to the nonprofits over the long run as our startups go on to create immense value, growing the startup ecosystem and not only benefitting local job growth and creation, but also making the next generation of startups more likely to succeed.

Once the Founders Pledge becomes part of the culture of the startup community, it will create a virtuous cycle of success.

If you are a founder who would like to make a similar commitment, feel free to contact us, or tweet @greatnorthlabs with #MNFoundersPledge. We can offer advice on making the commitment and professional referrals for legal and accounting.

The environment is ripe and the ecosystem is ready, and it’s time that this popular movement started spreading through Minnesota and the Upper Midwest!

July Newsletter
Great North Ventures

iraLogix closes $22M + Branch expands with Uber

iraLogix Closes Series C
Great North Ventures

iraLogix closes $22M Series C

June Newsletter
Great North Ventures

Flywheel lands Gates Foundation grant

We're Hiring
Great North Ventures

Venture Capital Analyst

We're Hiring
Great North Ventures

Executive Assistant – Venture Capital Firm

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
Great North Ventures

Investment Theme: Community-Driven Applications

Fund II Theses: Solving Labor Problems
Great North Ventures

Investment Theme: Solving Labor Problems

April Newsletter
Great North Ventures

Trends in the Gig Economy + Work in the Metaverse

Minnebar14
Josef Siebert

MinneBar 14 Recap

Minnesota Innovation Collaborative
Josef Siebert

Minnesota Innovation Collaborative

engineer and various business information. Internet of things industry.
Pradip Madan

IoT 3.0

Healthcare innovation image
Great North Ventures

Healthcare Innovation