While there are vaccines on the horizon and a potential further stimulus package, possibly in time for the holiday season, we still have a ways to go until economic recovery. Startups will be key to that recovery. 
 

Which Startups Will Succeed?

Have you ever wondered if your app idea was worth pursuing, if a startup was worth working for, or if your buddy’s startup was worth investing in? Of course you have. While enterprise SaaS startups have reliable benchmarks to compare against, early-stage consumer app startups are harder to evaluate. 

This is a problem for these startups, because it affects their ability to raise money. It’s also a problem for Midwest investors, who miss out on huge successes like Groupon and Grubhub.

Here’s how to evaluate them.
 

MN Entrepreneur Gift Guide


As of 2010 census data, roughly 49% of the private sector worked for a small business, and 2 out of 3 new jobs were created by a small business. If you didn’t find all of your gifts on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, or Cyber Monday, check out our 2020 Minnesota Entrepreneur Gift Buying Guide and buy from a small business.

Local small businesses have great, innovative products. Buying from them this holiday season also supports local jobs and growth. 

It includes ideas for a variety of products from local companies from camel milk skincare products to Boozy Jerky, and from Askov Finlayson’s Climate Positive Parka to the James Beard-winning  “Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” (in case you’re still celebrating Native American Heritage Month).

Local Early-Stage Startup News


LaunchMN celebrated it’s one-year anniversary, and released a First-Year Progress Report

Our latest Lean Startup School (with Red Wing Ignite, ILT Studios, and LaunchMN) pitch night ended with 2 winners: 

gBETAGreaterMN St. Cloud Director Precious Drew was just named to Minne Inno’s 2020 Under 25! (Boozy Jerky mentioned above is an alumnus!)
 

Startup Investment Incentive

If you’re thinking of investing but need some incentive, here is how investors (including investors in VC funds and angel investors) can get a 100% exclusion on their gains from those startup investments

Events

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

Portfolio News


USA Softball Announces Partnership Agreement with TeamGenius. TeamGenius has a new partnership to serve as the athlete evaluation system for USA Softball. 

Inno on Fire: The 30 companies and people shaping Wisconsin’s tech sceneAllergy Amulet was named to the list of impactful tech startups.

2ndKitchen Releases New 2021 Multifamily Amenities Guide2ndKitchen has a new report out with research and survey data on the importance of amenities in Multifamily properties.

 

Job Board

Great North Labs is hiring VC Analyst interns for summer of 2021. The application closes this week!

Dispatch is hiring a Territory Sales Manager, Business Development Representative, and Ruby Developer for Remote work. 

FactoryFix is hiring a Team Lead – Full Stack Developer, Full Stack Developer, and Infrastructure Developer- DevOps in Madison, WI; and a Sales Development Representative in Chicago, IL, Indianapolis, IN, or Madison, WI.

PrintWithMe is hiring a Regional Sales Directors for East Coast, South Central, and South East regions; Director, Demand GenerationOperations Lead, and MBA Strategy Intern in Chicago, IL.

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

Branch is hiring a Senior Software Engineer and Android Engineer for remote work, and an Account Executive, Mid-Market, and Channel Sales 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.

Clinician Nexus is hiring a Customer Success Manager in Minneapolis, MN. 

NoiseAware is hiring a VP of Marketing, a QA Technician (independent contractor), Account Manager, and a Customer Advocate in Dallas, TX.

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

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.

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! We are excited to announce that signups for the new, Greater MN-focused startup school initiative are live, and will kick off on March 7th in St. Cloud and March 14th in Red Wing. 

Red Wing Ignite Startup School

The Lean Startup School is a partnership led by Red Wing Ignite, with partners including Great North Labs and ILT Studios. Disciplined startup education is in short supply in Minnesota, and we are addressing the shortage with this accessible program. The first workshop in the series, Program 01: Customer Driven Innovation – Module 101: Opportunity Identification will be held in St. Cloud on March 7th at 9am and 1pm. A second cohort will be based in Red Wing, with the same workshop kicking off there on March 14th, at 9am and 1pm.

“What most people don’t tell you is that there is a process that can be taught and practiced to sharpen an idea, iterate on it, and then pair it with an initial business strategy to go validate,” says, Nick Tietz, Founder and CEO of ILT Studios. “We believe that there are hundreds of unused ideas just waiting for a clear path to success and this Opportunity Identification Course is designed to help entrepreneurs to unlock these ideas, nurture their development and help them to have a chance at becoming a great business idea.”

The Red Wing Ignite Lean Startup School begins on March 7th in St. Cloud, and on March 14th in Red Wing.

We wrote about our involvement and the genesis of the Great North Labs’s startup education initiatives here. If you want to sign up, follow this link to for St. Cloud,  and this link for the Red Wing course! The program is FREE for anyone with an idea, including the spectrum from students to seasoned entrepreneurs. 

World Economic Forum

Managing Partner Pradip Madan went to Davos for the annual World Economic Forum gathering, which focuses on entrepreneurship in the global public interest, and shaping global, regional, and industry agendas. As part of the Digital Future Board room, Pradip spoke after the session “Unlocking Global Corporate Performance with a Family-Friendly Business Code” about investing in the Upper Midwest, and how we are poised for success. 

“In today’s conversations folks talked about support, and a kind of environment which is collaborative, and has longevity in its loyalty to the institution and the organization,” said Pradip. “All these things are true for the Upper Midwest, and that gives us the environment for our entrepreneurs to succeed, and for Limited Partners – our investors – to succeed as a result. 

See Pradip here in this clip from CNN Money.

Events

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

Portfolio News

PartySlate is new to the Great North Labs portfolio. PartySlate is a visual platform for event planning that is free to use for people who are looking to throw a party, while vendors and event planners can pay a premium for improved placement. Great North Labs led this $5.5M round into this visual event planning platform. With $11M raised to date, CEO Julie Novack and PartySlate are #3 in funds raised by a female founder in Chicago in the last 10 years. Read more in Crain’s.

Job Board

FactoryFix is hiring a Product Designer- Customer Growth, two Full Stack Developers, and a Infrastructure Developer- DevOps in Madison; a Recruiter, and a Business Development Representative in Chicago.
TeamGenius is hiring a Customer Success Associate. 
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 a Customer Success Manager – Events & Popups, Production and Inventory Associate, Operations Associate, Business Development Representative, and an Account Executive in Chicago. 
PrintWithMe is hiring a Customer Service Representative, Web Developer (Python), and an Inside Sales Executive in Chicago; Super User Technicians in Portland and Houston; and Regional Sales Directors for the Southeast and 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 Sales Operations Manager, Sales Development Manager, Field Marketing Manager, Software Engineer, Customer Support Agent, Account Executive – Enterprise, Sales Engineer, IT Coordinator, Lifecycle Marketing Manager, DevOps Engineer, Jr. Visual Designer, Sr. Backend Engineer, Demand Generation Content Manager, Account Executive – Mid-Market,Growth Marketing Inter, and Growth Marketing Analyst in Minneapolis; a remote Sr. Android Engineer; and an Operational Data Scientist in Minneapolis or remote. 
NoiseAware is hiring a Global Supply Chain Manager, Product Marketing Manager, and UI/UX Designer in Dallas.
PartySlate is hiring a Marketing Coordinator, HR Manager, Account Executive, Product Marketing Manager, Senior Product Desinger (UX), Senior Software Engineer (Front End), all in Chicago.

UPDATE: Signup here for St. Cloud or Red Wing locations! Or View Course Information.

Greater Minnesota has been underperforming in its formation of new startups. When we founded Great North Labs, we recognized this need, and committed to changing it before the region could fall further behind. We founded a Startup School to provide the educational components that we saw local entrepreneurs were missing. By partnering with Red Wing Ignite and ILT Studios, we will greatly expand our reach, capacity, and educational offering. This co-created, yet-to-be-named, Greater MN Startup School initiative will reach across the state to cultivate founders and startups in areas ready for the impact of entrepreneurial innovation.

The Necessity of Startup Entrepreneurship

From 2000-2017, 52% of companies in the Fortune 500 have either gone bankrupt, been acquired, or ceased to exist. Digital disruption is the primary catalyst of change. Adaptability is key to success. A key to any community, or organization, strengthening its adaptive intelligence is for it to master a disciplined approach to startup entrepreneurship. Disciplined startup entrepreneurship isn’t new but techniques have emerged the past 15 years that emphasize a more agile process for startup entrepreneurship that is needed in an environment with such accelerating changes.

One measure of the strength of startup entrepreneurship in a community is the number of first venture financings that it produces. The Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) now have 1% of the countries first venture financings, but Greater Minnesota (generalized as non-urban MN, or specifically as all of Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities region) has lagged behind. Comparing the efficiency –the number of first venture financings per population– of the Twin Cities to the next largest markets in Minnesota is revealing. St. Cloud, Duluth, and Mankato have 50% or lower startup efficiency. Rochester (home of the Mayo Clinic) is a standout, and outperformed with a 200%+ startup efficiency compared to the Twin Cities.

The Need for Startup Education

My twin brother and Great North Labs Partner, Rob Weber, and I have previously angel invested in 25 startups from 2006 to 2017 while scaling our own startup with offices in Silicon Valley and Minnesota. I served for 10+ years as Chief Product Officer, and noticed an inefficiency in the startup teams resulting from a lack of disciplined startup entrepreneurship practices compared to Silicon Valley. I struggled finding Minnesota-based product managers trained in the more adaptive style of product management made popular by lean startups so we invested in developing a common process and trained our team on it.

As investors, too often we’d hear from a founder that they just need $300K to prove out their latest thesis. We’d meet teams that burned through $500K in angel funding that still couldn’t present evidence validating their thesis. This evidence we’d expect a product manager to answer at our company in their first two months of leading a new product idea with nothing more than qualitative research.

For most of the funded startup teams, they were immersed in the market and sought to solve a problem they thought they understood well. However, they usually struggled to identify the problem that’s the most impactful to solve, the minimal viable solution that solves that problems needs, and an offer that communicates the value proposition clearly and for a price the buyer will accept.

The Great North Labs Startup School

Great North Labs was formed in the fall of 2017. In addition to our early-stage venture fund, we started an initiative called the Startup School to invest in strengthening our disciplined startup education in the region. We led a group of practitioners who ran workshops on Digital Transformation, Lean Startups (most frequent), and Agile Development. The free or low-cost workshops attracted over 200 participants through the end of 2019. The workshop materials were also shared with many others and we gave lectures at a number of universities and conferences in cities across the Upper Midwest.

Great North Labs Startup School

For the Lean Startup Workshop, we found that participants were engaged with low attrition rates and heard from them after the fact as they reported on their progress. We had the Executive Director of a significant non-profit mention using the process to discover a new innovation they were pursuing to commercialize, several tech founders launching their MVPs after researching, and many staying in touch to assist and support each-other but also in some cases joining forces on a startup.

We saw a greater gap in the smaller markets across Minnesota and throughout the Upper Midwest. However, one bright spot was in Iowa. There, the state had invested in programming similar to ours, and had expanded across the state with their Venture School initiative.

The Greater MN Startup School Initiative

We are taking the experience and lessons learned along the way from our initial Startup School, from Iowa’s Venture School, and from other startup education programs to expand our program to our new Greater MN Startup School initiative. This new Startup School will make the skills and training necessary for disciplined startup entrepreneurship more accessible to Minnesota entrepreneurs than ever before. It will also open up networks and possibilities for people across the state that were previously unavailable. Across the state, we hope to see this cultivation of startups drive innovation, economic activity, and value creation.

Read more about our startup education and sign up for courses

Who: Great North Labs, ILT Studios, Redwing Ignite and Partners.

What: A new set of workshops designed to strengthen the skills in disciplined startup entrepreneurship and provide an applied learning environment that allows founders, and their supporters, to work from idea conception to commercialization.

Participants will learn innovation techniques for identifying, defining, sizing, validating, and commercializing venture scalable startups. There will be new online and in-class programming to help you learn with hands-on practical activities, mentorship, insights, and opportunities to network to help you build confidence in your startup thesis and master the art of gathering feedback, directly from your future customers.

When: The first class for Customer Driven Innovation will run from March-April. The first class for Business Model Foundation will follow in early summer. The first class for The Lean Startup will run from mid to late summer. Web-site registration will be open in February for the classes and we will follow up with additional details.

Where: Red Wing and St. Cloud will offer the same classes in parallel but on different days

Why: To teach participants about design innovation, the Lean Startup process and how to identify, develop, define, validate, finance and commercialize their ideas so they are more successful in developing their own startup as a new company or inside of an existing one.

Earn a certificate for completing each of the programs and strengthen your credentials for a career as a Startup Founder or Product Manager. Initially, three workshops will be offered and each will feature a program certificate for those that successful complete:

Program 1: Customer Driven Innovation – Gain fresh perspective that will expand your thinking and push you to bold new ideas through practice and discussion within the class and interactions with the instructors and classmates. You’ll come up with a number of potential ideas and pick one to develop as a concept pitch.

Program 2: Business Model Foundation – This program builds on the Customer Driven Innovation course to help you form a strong business thesis. Learn to document your initial business plan and quickly analyze it’s potential, advanced customer discovery interview methods, and skills needed to help gather better feedback and ensure you are solving the right problem.

Program 3: The Lean Startup Certificate– This program builds on the Customer Driven Innovation and the Business Model Foundation courses to leverage the creativity and collaboration within a startup team to develop and execute experiments that test your business thesis, synthesis key learnings, and to explore alternative thesis based on those learnings until you find a business thesis that meets your success criteria. This program will culminate with an idea pitch event where an investor panel will award cash prizes to the top pitches.

Building up the Region

The Twin Cities has emerged as a strong startup community in the Upper Midwest. There are parallels between Silicon Valley and the Twin Cities that we can learn from and try to replicate in Greater MN, and potentially the entire Upper Midwest region.

Silicon Valley benefited from an emphasis on experimenting with practical skills in emerging fields, a network of VCs, links with Economic Development Departments, local universities, and local LPs. Our vision is to partner with all the aforementioned entities to serve the entrepreneurs of Greater MN.

While this is our pilot year, we already have interest from a variety of organizations. There is strong demand from around the state. If your community is interested in our program, please contact us, and we can stay connected and help with preparations as we make plans for expansion.

As far as involved organizations go, we’d like to take a moment to thank LaunchMN in particular, for their financial and operational support. This new MN DEED initiative led by Neela Mollgaard has helped make this new Startup School initiative possible.

We have an opportunity now to transform our rural markets into strong startup communities, and improve their resiliency in a world that increasingly requires adaptive intelligence and innovation skills to succeed.


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