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.

[Due to health and safety considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are canceling this year’s in-person conference. We will keep our community updated via our newsletter on any changes, as we explore virtual event options.]

Great North Labs’s Startup Summit 2020 will be on August 27th at St. Cloud State University. Every year, Great North Labs gathers stakeholders together in late summer for an annual event aimed at supporting startups in our portfolio and the startup ecosystem in general.

Sometimes there are boat rides, other times there are distinguished speakers and panels. There is always networking. And food, and fun, and new connections. Every year, without fail, people ask, “What are we doing next year?”.

And every year, I say to at least one of them, “demolition derby at the Brainerd Speedway”. It is never true, but it keeps them guessing and excited, and that is just good marketing.

Well, the cat is out of the bag early this year.

Mark your calendars for August 27th. Great North Labs’s Startup Summit 2020 will be at St. Cloud State University in the Atwood Ballroom from 1-5pm. (Investors- save the date starting at 10:30am. Details will follow.)

There will be industry-specific breakout sessions and startup ecosystem speakers, plus plenty of networking. No helmets required.

Further details and an event sign-up link will follow. Keep an eye on our newsletter to stay up-to-date!

[Due to health and safety considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are canceling this year’s in-person conference. We will keep our community updated via our newsletter on any changes, as we explore virtual event options.]

Great North Labs’s Startup Summit 2020 will be on August 27th at St. Cloud State University. Every year, Great North Labs gathers stakeholders together in late summer for an annual event aimed at supporting startups in our portfolio and the startup ecosystem in general.

Sometimes there are boat rides, other times there are distinguished speakers and panels. There is always networking. And food, and fun, and new connections. Every year, without fail, people ask, “What are we doing next year?”.

And every year, I say to at least one of them, “demolition derby at the Brainerd Speedway”. It is never true, but it keeps them guessing and excited, and that is just good marketing.

Well, the cat is out of the bag early this year.

Mark your calendars for August 27th. Great North Labs’s Startup Summit 2020 will be at St. Cloud State University in the Atwood Ballroom from 1-5pm. (Investors- save the date starting at 10:30am. Details will follow.)

There will be industry-specific breakout sessions and startup ecosystem speakers, plus plenty of networking. No helmets required.

Further details and an event sign-up link will follow. Keep an eye on our newsletter to stay up-to-date!

Welcome back to the Great North Labs newsletter! 2020 kicked off to a fast start. We were invited to participate in the World Economic Forum, and we announced the next chapter in our Startup School. There’s also a new advisor on the team, and a new portfolio company.

World Economic Forum

Managing Partner Pradip Madan went to Davos for the annual gathering, which focuses on entrepreneurship in the global public interest, and shaping global, regional, and industry agendas. On and off stage, Pradip spoke about investing in the Upper Midwest, supporting and growing the ecosystem, and of course, the promise of the Upper Midwest region.

Pradip spoke on the Global Citizen panel hosted by Minneapolis AI company PinkLion.AI titled Innovation in Tech: Leveraging unexplored areas and geographies to increase scale and innovation in the public and private sector, and hosted an hour-long roundtable for The Digital Economist on Business models and strategies that will hallmark the next phase of global economic transformation.

Great North Labs was also proud to sponsor the International Women Business Leaders Reception and the Digital Future Board Room. Inclusion and digital transformation are both important topics that we are glad to support and help elevate on the world stage. 

The Global Citizen Panelists: Patricia Simmons, M.D., Maria Dayton, Pradip Madan, Karen Korponai, Jennifer Bonine, and Dean Costakis

There was a strong regional contingent involved with and leading these events, including Jennifer Bonine of PinkLion.AI, Patricia Simmons of Mayo, and Maria Dayton, Ambassador of SingularityU Minneapolis-St.Paul. Maria and Jennifer were instrumental in organizing these events, and are strong representatives for Minnesota and the region. 

One of the ecosystem building efforts that Pradip highlighted at WEF was our Startup School, which is currently undergoing a reboot. We have new partners, expanded curricula, and greater reach!

Startup School Reboot

Started in 2017, the original Great North Labs Startup School offered bootcamps covering Lean Startup and Agile Scrum, and additional offerings over the years included education on digital disruption and exponential technologies. Roughly 200 students went through the school. 

Now, we are working on an expanded offering with new partners Red Wing Ignite and ILT Studios. While the new initiative will no longer be wholly owned and operated by Great North Labs, it will be greatly expanded, able to reach more of Greater Minnesota, and hopefully scale across the entire state. You can read more about it on our blog, or in this article by Minne Inno. 

Classes will begin in March, and sign-up will be live in February. Contact us to get on the mailing list and stay informed, and to find out when you can sign up.


Here are some upcoming events related to tech startups. Where our attendance is noted, feel free to reach out or connect at the event: 

Advisor News

Steve Schmidt is new to the Great North Labs team. He is the Founder and CEO of Abetech, a company that creates bar code and RFID systems and solutions that increase productivity.

Portfolio News

NoiseAware is new to the Great North Labs portfolio. NoiseAware provides a real-time noise monitoring solution for the rapidly growing short-term rental industry. According to property managers, the biggest challenge they face is party prevention. This is likewise a major concern for major rental platforms such as AirBnB. NoiseAware’s solution includes options for indoor an outdoor monitoring, in real-time, with historical data and trend tracking across properties. 

Job Board

FactoryFix is hiring two Full Stack Developers and a UX Designer in Madison, and a Business Development Specialist and Account Manager in Chicago.
Pitchly is hiring a remote Legal Marketing & Sales Content Specialist
Misty Robotics is hiring a Lead Qualification & Inside Sales Specialist, and an Inside Sales Specialist (contract) in Boulder, CO. 
2ndKitchen is hiring an Account Executive, Business Development Representative, Operations Associate, Operations Intern, and Design Operations Intern in Chicago. 
PrintWithMe is hiring a Customer Success Associate, Customer Service Representative, Web Developer (Python), 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. 
Branch is hiring a Revenue Operations Manager, Sales Development Manager, UX Designer, Senior IOS Engineer, Customer Support Agent, Account Executive (Enterprise), IT Coordinator, Data Engineer, Devops Engineer, Jr. Visual Designer, Senior Backend Engineer, Senior Android Engineer, and Account Executive (Mid-Market) in Minneapolis. 
NoiseAware is hiring a Back-end Developer, Embedded Developer, Front-end Developer, Mobile Developer, Site Reliability Engineer, Global Supply Chain Manager, Product Marketing Manager, and UI/UX Designer in Dallas.

With approximately 500 attendees, uber-founder and CEO Navroop Sahdev and VP Heidi Cuppari conducted the outstanding The Digital Economist Roundtable at the World Economic Forum 2020 at Davos. Great North Labs was invited to the event to discuss the role of venture capital in economic impact, and I shared the fund’s experience and strategy.

Pradip Madan speaking at the World Economic Forum
Pradip Madan speaking at the World Economic Forum 2020.

The strategy starts with Fund I. The plan for Fund I is to invest in roughly 30 companies. We anticipate these portfolio companies will raise a total of ~$200M from co-investments as they grow. With that total and, for example, a 500% return over the life of the fund, we would build ~$1B in market value. By motivating LPs with successful exits to reinvest in subsequent funds, this builds a cycle of growth.

In the course of raising and investing Fund I, we gained valuable experience in developing relationships and aligning incentives. Great North Labs built an ecosystem of 200+ investment partners, 60+ advisors, and developed relationships with universities, regional economic development organizations, government, and innovation catalyst organizations such as Singularity University. To develop local talent, we founded a startup school that educated 200+ on startup entrepreneurship, regularly provide office hours and mentorship to entrepreneurs, and worked with, trained, and hired college students.

Regional entrepreneurs prefer to raise money and grow in their communities, and investors prefer to invest within the region where regional VCs are available. By leveraging our foundational work from Fund I, our second fund could bring 2-3X the co-investment dollars and returns. Over 3-4 decades, this is how investors built fortunes and turned the farm economy of Silicon Valley into one of the world’s most prosperous regions. 

While continuing to lead and co-invest in Seed Stage through B Rounds in Fund I, we will raise Fund II. This will create investing continuity and maintain dealflow, synchronicity with the local ecosystem, and co-investor relations. By creating a cycle of growth and re-investment, our goal is to create prosperity in a similar fashion as Silicon Valley, here in the Upper Midwest.

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!

$23.7 Million Raised

Great North Labs has closed its first fund with $23.7M in committed capital! This is one of the largest debut seed funds ever raised in the Midwest. 

“We are very appreciative and humbled by the tremendous support shown for our debut fund by our limited partners,” said Great North Labs Managing Partner Rob Weber. “Our investors’ support shows not only their conviction for us as fund managers, but also their conviction to backing the next generation of startup founders across our region.”

Managing Partners Rob and Ryan Weber, SCSU President Robbyn Wacker, and Managing Partner Pradip Madan at the Great North Labs Startup Ecosystem Kickoff last September. 

This fund raise has exceeded our team’s expectations, and has increased our capacity, reach and impact as we cultivate the next generation of tech startups across the Upper Midwest.

“The opportunity in the Midwest is significant for investors with the right experience, criteria and investment thesis. For four decades, capital has gravitated towards Silicon Valley, Boston and New York. With the high cost of living and a talent supply-demand imbalance, making a startup successful is now more difficult in Silicon Valley,” said Managing Partner Pradip Madan, who is based in Silicon Valley. “As a result, investors are starting to pay more attention to the startup ecosystems in places like Chicago, Minneapolis, Madison and Des Moines. Plus, many of the industries – financial, food, travel and hospitality, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, mining – that entrepreneurs are now disrupting are native to these areas. In the new Gold Rush, the gold is the hard-working entrepreneurs and their startups in these regions.”

Read more at VentureBeat, the Star Tribune, Yahoo Finance, the Minneapolis-St. Paul  or Milwaukee Business Journals, MinneInno or ChicagoInno, Tech.MN, the Grand Rapids Herald, the St. Cloud Times


July 17-18th. Enterprise Rising, Minneapolis. “If you’re an enterprise SaaS startup, then this will be the best room you’ll be in all year.” 

July 17-18th. Fund Conference, Chicago. Brad Feld of Foundry Group is the featured speaker this year. “FUND Conference was launched in 2015 to connect investors, vetted, emerging-growth companies, and business leaders for same-day connections and business development opportunities.”

July 18th. Minnedemo32, St. Paul. A showcase of working tech products made in Minnesota. No PowerPoint, 7 minutes to present. 

July 24th. Horizon, St. Paul. This is Forge North’s activation event for ecosystem leaders. “If you are ready to look to the horizon, set clear and ambitious new goals for our region, and rally around breakthrough ideas, partners in Forge North invite you to join in.”

July 25th. TedX Fargo 2019: Forward, Fargo. “We want to empower people to be solution-orientated, believing that ideas can change the way the world works. We want to encourage you to listen to new ideas, find a topic that you’re passionate about, and then take action to enable those ideas. Join us as we celebrate our 10th TEDxFargo event, and 10 years of TEDx!”


Two Great North Labs advisors are new to the team

Geoff Wood is the founder of Gravitate Coworking in Des Moines, Iowa, as well as the Executive Director of the West Des Moines Business Incubator. Geoff co-founded and publishes Clay & Milk, a media startup that covers the Iowa entrepreneurial ecosystem.  

Mike Rynchek is the former CTO of Bright Health. Before that, Mike founded and served as CEO of Spyder Trap, which was acquired by Bright Health. He is currently the Global Strategy Lead for Onduo, and an active startup investor and advisor. 

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring all over the country (25 cities!) for Field Sales Representatives and Drivers. In Bloomington, MN, they are hiring an Engineer, a UX Designer, and for Biz Dev, Customer Experience, and Driver Engagement roles. 

Structural is hiring a Node/JavaScript Engineer.

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, a Devops Engineer, and a Sr. Software Engineer, in Boulder, CO. 

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

2ndKitchen is hiring a Full-Stack Developer in Brooklyn, NY, and an Operations Associate in Chicago.  

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

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.

Great North Labs Startup Ecosystem Kickoff

“It doesn’t take a lot of capital with early-stage tech companies to make a big impact.” – Ryan Weber

The Great North Labs Startup Ecosystem Kickoff brought together successful entrepreneurs and innovators to learn about the current state of the tech and investment ecosystem and network with like-minded professionals. 25 speakers, 6 portfolio startups, and over 250 attendees came together for the afternoon! The topics of education, community, fostering connections, economic impact, and the ripe opportunity for venture capital in the upper Midwest dominated conversations, as some of the area’s most innovative thinkers gathered, spoke, and networked.

Here’s what people have to say about the event:

“a fantastic event with great speakers” (@jmjhjr)

“pretty amazing turnout here at #SCSU (@graemethickins)

“Much appreciation to @mnvikingsfan and @robertjweber of @greatnorthlabs for spending their time supporting the startup ecosystem of MN. Great event today @stcloudstate #GNLKickoff – Thank You!!!!” (@jongoldsberry)

Continue the conversation on Twitter with the #GNLKickoff hashtag. If you missed the event, or want to see it all over again, watch it on YouTube!

Follow these links for more info for investors and startups. Or contact us!

Thanks to everyone for coming, and stay tuned for future events!



Oct. 8th-14th, Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW), Greater Minneapolis-St.Paul Area. Over 200 events scheduled!

Oct. 9th, “Minimal Lovable Product Panel” (part of TCSW). 3-5 pm, at the Baker Center, Minneapolis. FieldNation is hosting, and Ryan Weber is a panelist.

Oct. 10th, “Project North Fall Quarterly Roundtable“. 12-4 pm, at the Lumber Exchange Event Center, Minneapolis. Rob Weber will speak on the “State of the Twin Cities Innovation and Startup Community”.

Oct. 11thGreat North Labs Pre-TedX Happy Hour (part of TCSW), St. Cloud. From 5-6 pm, we’ll gather at Great North Labs’s headquarters for a happy hour, ecosystem talk and networking before TedX St.Cloud 2018: Cultivating, which will be held only a few blocks away at the Paramount in St. Cloud. This event recently sold out, so we added a few more tickets. Purchase them through Twin Cities Startup Week!

Oct. 24-25, 2018 FUND Conference, Chicago. “FUND Conference is the nation’s connector of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, and industry experts with a focus on curated deal flow, captivating content and same day connections.” Pradip Madan is speaking.

Oct. 30, TalentMN Leadership Summit, Impact Hub, Minneapolis. Sponsored by Structural!

Portfolio action

CEOs from our portfolio companies presented at the Startup Ecosystem Kickoff, giving overviews, updates, and asks of the Great North Labs community. Visit the Startup Ecosystem Kickoff playlist on the Great North Labs YouTube channel to see presentations from Dispatch, Structural, TeamGenius, FactoryFix, ZAPinfo, and Pitchly.

New advisors

Great North Labs welcomed three new advisors in September:

Jason Heath is the CFO at Drip + LeadPages, and was formerly the VP of Business Intelligence & Analytics at GoDaddy.
Mike Bollinger is the Founder of Livefront and the Co-founder of TECHdotMN.
Graeme Thickins is the President and Founder of GT&A Strategic Marketing Inc. and is a MinneAnalytics board member. He also has a long career as a tech writer and analyst, and runs GraemeThickinsontech.com.

Welcome to the team!

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring Drivers in Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Orlando, and Minneapolis.
Structural is hiring an Account Executive, Office Administrator , and a Senior Engineer (ReactJS).
Team Genius is hiring a Lead Full-Stack Engineer
Pitchly is hiring a UI/UX designer and Core engineer- watch for postings on the Pitchly website.
FactoryFix is hiring a Visual/UI Designer, Vue.js Developer, VP Talent, and a Business Development Rep.

Great North Labs’s August Update

Fostering Midwest success means making guidance and capital available for tech startups

Great North Labs got the front-page treatment in the Star Tribune Business section this Sunday. Former investment banker, consultant and corporate officer (and current business journalist) Lee Schafer talked about building successful tech companies with Ryan and Rob Weber– including the importance of providing advice and mentorship in addition to capital.

Rob also caught up with former advisor and mentor Young Sohn, President of Samsung, and former advisee and investee Mynul Khan, CEO of FieldNation. They illustrate the success that can come with “a little bit of money and a lot of advice”.

If a startup is considering moving from the Midwest to find that success, as Rob says in the article, “It shouldn’t be because the capital can’t find you. It shouldn’t be because you can’t get the mentorship you need.”



September 17th, St. CloudGreat North Labs Startup Ecosystem Kickoff. This invite-only event is THE annual event for Great North Labs! We will hear from:
Mary Grove, Partner at Revolution/Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, formerly Director of Google for Entrepreneurs
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, President/CEO of Minnesota High Tech Association
Matt Lewis, Director of Make It MSP @ Greater MSP, team member at Forge North
Mynul Khan, founder/ CEO of FieldNation
Corey Koskie, former Minnesota Twin, Founder at Linklete
Mark Ritchie, former Minnesota Secretary of State
Talks include “Why the Future is Bright for Startups Across America” and an “Outlook for Minnesota Technology & Innovation”.

A panel discussion on Sports Tech features local startup executives from SportsEngine, SportsRadar, SportsHub, and Starting11, while an Outstate Entrepreneurship panel will feature leaders from local accelerators, investors and entrepreneurs who are actively involved in outstate, upper Midwest ventures.

Great North Labs portfolio companies will give updates, and will be available to connect with. These include: Dispatch, Structural, Pitchly, ZapInfo, TeamGenius and FactoryFix.

This is about building the startup ecosystem, so there will be plenty of time for some high-quality networking and hors d’oeuvres.

If you haven’t received an invite, go here to request one. Tickets are free, but the invite list is filling up fast! After you receive your invitation, tickets for you and up to 2 guests can be claimed via Eventbrite.

October 8th-14th, Greater Minneapolis-St.Paul Area. Twin Cities Startup Week. With too many events scheduled to list, we’ll just focus on our own:

Great North Labs Pre-TedX Happy Hour, St. Cloud. From 5-6pm October 11th, we’ll gather at Great North Labs’s headquarters for a happy hour ecosystem talk and networking, before TedX St.Cloud 2018: Cultivating, which will be held only a few blocks away, at the Paramount in St. Cloud.

Past Event: Forward Fest was a great event this year, with Ryan Weber in Madison for two days (Aug. 20-21) of the annual week-long Wisconsin startup gathering. The fun started at Starting Block Madison, where GNL Advisor Nick Kartos ( CEO-GymDandy) helped facilitate a meet-and-greet happy hour. The event pitted MN and WI microbrews against each other, while entrepreneurs and investors had a chance to check out Starting Block’s space and hear about Great North Labs. The next day, Ryan moderated a panel on Startup-Corporate Partnerships at the Forward Technology Conference (Forward Fest’s “headline tech conference”). Thanks to everyone who came out, and thanks for the help, Nick!


Portfolio action

ZAPinfo is new to the Great North Labs portfolio. Formerly WebClipDrop, ZAPinfo is an information automation and productivity tool that helps recruiters and sales professionals be more productive by capturing, enriching, and sharing data easily across the web and any web based applications. With one click, users can gather a plethora of information about candidates from a variety of web sources, and with another click export it to any web form or app, or to a CSV, PDF, or other data file.

ZAPinfo is led by CEO/founder Doug Berg, who previously founded Jobs2Web and techies.com, and is an expert on workforce and career trends.

New advisors

Great North Labs welcomed two new advisors in August:

Daine Billmark, Senior Manager at TransUnion (formerly eBureau).
Wade Beavers, President of Mobile at Newscycle Solutions.

Welcome to the team!

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring Drivers in Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Orlando, and Minneapolis.
Structural is hiring an Account Executive and a Senior Software Engineer.
Team Genius is hiring a Lead Full-Stack Engineer.
Pitchly is hiring a UI/UX designer and Core engineer- watch for postings or contact directly for details.

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