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.  

On July 4th, 239 years ago, a group of entrepreneurs, visionaries, and leaders came together to free themselves from a politically oppressive system that they found socially and economically limiting. The country they founded promised life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness- free from tyranny and organized in a way “most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”. 

The American Dream is one of a meritocracy- work hard and be rewarded. This remains a dream for many who are hobbled by systemic barriers. Their success isn’t solely dependent on their talents and hard work, but on factors outside of their control like where they are born, who their parents are, and what color their skin is. 

The murder of George Floyd has exposed some of these barriers in a horrifying way. Not all people are safe and happy. Many are being denied the pursuit of happiness, liberty, and their very lives. For these citizens, our country isn’t a meritocracy. For these citizens, our country isn’t living up to its founding principles.

Protest art has covered boarded up windows and shops in areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. “No Justice, No Peace” is a recurring motif, as are messages of unity, cultural identity, and the oft-misunderstood plea to value Black lives as any other: “Black Lives Matter”.

As entrepreneurs and investors, we characterize the issues in terms we can understand and work with. We see the root problem as economic deprivation. Existing inequalities are the symptoms of this problem, and the solution is to give everyone a fair chance to succeed. That’s why our team works to provide equitable opportunities for success through charitable giving, training, and mentorship. We help entrepreneurs to have a chance at success, and we put in the effort to make it happen. 

As a venture fund we have only one KPI: returns. Our investing is driven by profits for shareholders. We make investments almost exclusively off referrals- from our advisors, investors, other funds and ecosystem partners. While we believe our efforts are equitable, we don’t currently measure demographics in our deal pipeline. In the words of Peter Drucker, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. 

So moving forward, as we log opportunities for observation and investment consideration, we will be tracking demographic profiles of the founding teams. We will also be tracking demographic profiles in our startup school initiative. These measurements will allow us to ensure that we are seeing opportunities from a representative sample of our region’s population. The data will guide the creation of specific action plans to improve the equity of our investment pipeline wherever necessary, so that we can be held accountable to providing fair access to our capital pipeline, our mentorship, and training initiatives.

We aren’t focused on the short-term. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Here in the upper Midwest, we are contributing to a cycle of growth by building capacity in the innovation ecosystem. The cycle includes not only harvesting profits, but cultivating startups. And by making this cycle accessible, by sharing the plans and the keys to growth engines with underserved communities, we can catalyze the generational change necessary to truly impact disadvantaged people in the region for the next 239 years.

Events

Summer is in full swing. After the 4th, check out these events. 

Portfolio News

Misty Robotics has developed a new skill for the robot, “Misty”, that turns it into a Temperature Screening Assistant. The skill turns Misty into an autonomous, customizable, user-friendly solution for touchless COVID-19 screening. 

Advisor News

Great North Labs has added a Venture Analyst to the team! Emily Shirley is a graduate of Miami University’s Finance and Entrepreneurship program. While at Miami University, Emily co-founded the Social Impact Fund, first undergraduate-led social impact fund in the country. Her recent experience includes as a Strategic Account intern at Cintrifuse. 

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring Product Manager, Product Owner, and Quality Assurance Engineer in Bloomington, MN. Territory Sales Manager positions are open in Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis, Milwaukee, Nashville, St. Louis, and Minneapolis. 

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.

PrintWithMe is hiring a Regional Sales Director on the East Coast; a Software Engineer, Summer Strategy Intern (MBA), Summer Strategy Intern (undergraduate), AR/AP Specialist, Account Manager, and Recruiter for Remote work.

Parallax is hiring for Growth/Customer Acquisition 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 Product Manager in Minneapolis or Remote.

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.

Twin Cities Startup Week is over! It was a busy week for many of us in the tech and innovation community, with around 300 events to attend and thousands of people to meet. 

This year, Great North Labs was proud to bring Greater Minnesota into the BETA Showcase for the first time ever. Thanks to Reed Robinson and Adam Lingerfelt at Beta for working with us to include 10 non-metro startups at this year’s event! We are still waiting on final tallies from TCSW, but we know that over 900 tickets were sold for the Showcase event. The value for these outstate entrepreneurs of that kind of exposure is fantastic, and we are glad to have done our part in providing it through our partnership with BETA. 

Great North Labs’s Ryan Weber speaks at the 2019 BETA Showcase at TCF Bank Stadium as BETA Executive Director Reed Robinson looks on.

Prior to the Showcase, Great North Labs hosted an invite-only event for the entrepreneurs and other attendees working from or with Greater Minnesota. The Greater MN Meetup brought together Greater Minnesota ecosystem stakeholders to join the conversation on improving the startup ecosystem. We had over 100 attendees involved in actively supporting the Greater MN innovation ecosystem! Thanks to Moss & Barnett and EPIQ Partners for co-hosting and making this event possible. 

“With the efforts of some amazing partners like the NEW Launch MN initiative and Great North Labs, there’s an ever increasing appetite for supporting and celebrating technology being built in Greater Minnesota… Working together, we’re excited to see what kind of growth occurs – customers, investment, awareness, etc – by building tighter relationships between the local technology ecosystem and those building outside of the Twin Cities.” – Reed Robinson, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BETA

Events and initiatives like the 2019 BETA Showcase, gBeta Greater MN St. Cloud, and Launch MN are excellent catalysts for entrepreneurs. By supporting them we will continue to drive innovation and foster economic value creation in Minnesota and across the Upper Midwest. 

In line with this mission on a national level is Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, who just announced a $150M second fund. They are focused on investing in startups from communities not located in traditional startup hotbeds. We are partners with Rise in Dispatch and Structural, and are supporters of what they do locally. Great North Labs’s Rob Weber will be speaking at their upcoming annual summit in D.C. on Scaling a Company and Growing a Team Outside of Silicon Valley. Congratulations to Steve Case, Anna Mason, Mary Grove and the rest of the Rise team!

Events

Nov. 5th, UMD Entrepreneurship Conference in Duluth, MN. This student-run conference will bring together entrepreneurs, educators, and innovators.

Nov. 6-7th, Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in Madison, WI. This is an Investor/Entrepreneur conference with 500+ attendees.

Nov. 12th, Launch MN Roundtable Discussion: Central Minnesota in St. Cloud, MN. Great North Labs is hosting Launch MN! This session will educate innovation ecosystem stakeholders on the initiative, and serve as a forum for feedback about how to best support Central MN.

Nov. 12-14th, Fulcrum: The Conference on Solutions for the Future of Work inDetroit, MI. “The Fulcrum Conference will bring together a broad range of stakeholders to design win-win solutions that will benefit workers, employers, our communities, and our economy.” 50% off code for SingularityU community members: SUCOMM50. 

Nov. 14th, Cultivate in Fargo, ND. Put on by Emerging Prairie, this conference is all about emerging tech in agriculture. Entrepreneurs in the AgTech space actively looking for investment and ready to pitch, apply hereConnect with Ryan Weber (@mnvikingsfan) at the event. 

Nov. 14th, OnRamp Manufacturing Conference in Indianapolis, IN. The OnRamp Manufacturing Conference highlights innovations disrupting the manufacturing industry, the leaders making such innovations possible, and how new technologies and business models will reinvent the industry.

Nov. 18th, Moonshot Monday in Minneapolis. SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul’s happy hour event will feature Finnegan’s finest, networking, and the think-outside-the-box Global Grand Challenges game. 

Nov. 19-20th, 2019 UNMET Conference inDenver, CO. “50 of the fastest-growing tech companies located throughout the middle of the US will be pitching to raise Series A/B Capital”. Connect with Rob Weber (@robertjweber) at the event. 

Advisor News

Amit Patel is new to the Great North Labs Advisory Team! Amit is the Co-Founder and CEO of Vios Medical. Amit’s experience includes Global Partnership Strategy at Heartflow, Inc., and Corporate Development at Medtronic. 

Brian Tockman is new to the Great North Labs Advisory Team! Brian advises consumer growth and omni-channel retail companies. He is a former Venture Investor at General Mills, Merchant at Target, and eCommerce Startup Leader.



Portfolio News

Misty Roboticshas released Misty II! Check out their latest robot/developer platform here.

Dispatch won the Operational Excellence Award at the 2019 Twin Cities Startup Week Awards. Congrats to the Dispatch team!

Job Board

More information about our portfolio companies can be found here

Dispatch is hiring all over the country for Drivers and for  Biz Dev, QA Engineer, Front-End Engineer, Accounts Payable, and a CFO in Bloomington, MN
Structural is hiring for a Sales & Marketing Operations Specialist, and Account Exec in St. Paul, MN.
FactoryFix is hiring a Software Engineer and Product Designer in Madison, and a Business Development Specialist and an Account Manager in Chicago.
Misty Robotics is hiring a Lead Qualification and Inside Sales Specialist in Boulder, CO. 
2ndKitchen is hiring a Digital Marketing Manager, Customer Success Manager, Account Exec, Customer Support Manager, and Director of Sales, all in Chicago.
PrintWithMe is hiring a Customer Success Associate, Network Operations Specialist, and Operations Lead in Chicago, and a Regional Sales Director for the West Coast. 

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

Oh, no. Oh ho ho ho ho NO.

1. BETA Showcase

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

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

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

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

2. Greater MN Meetup

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

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

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

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

3. Exponential Medicine

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

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

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

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

4. Exponential Medicine Moonshot Workshop

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

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

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

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

5. TCSW Awards Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Kind of all over the place

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

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

This year, Greater MN is joining Twin Cities Startup Week in a big way! The premier event of TCSW is including Greater MN for the first time, as Great North Labs has partnered with BETA to open up the BETA Showcase to Greater MN startups. BETA is the founder and organizer of Twin Cities Startup Week, and every year the Showcase is the sold-out highlight of the week, featuring top startups.

Ten Greater Minnesota startups will be highlighted alongside 14 from BETA’s cohort. 

“With the efforts of some amazing partners like the NEW Launch MN initiative and Great North Labs, there’s an ever increasing appetite for supporting and celebrating technology being built in Greater Minnesota. It’s our privilege to present some of these companies at one of Twin Cities Startup Week’s most exciting events – the BETA Showcase. Working together, we’re excited to see what kind of growth occurs – customers, investment, awareness, etc – by building tighter relationships between the local technology ecosystem and those building outside of the Twin Cities.” – Reed Robinson, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Beta.MN

The event will be Oct.14 in the DQ Club Room at TCF Bank Stadium, from 7-9 pm. Tickets for the Showcase usually sell out, so be sure to get them well in advance as 1,000+ attendees are expected this year. 

Greater MN Meetup

Great North Labs is sponsoring a special, invite-only, pre-Showcase gathering for Greater MN stakeholders called the Greater MN Meetup. The Greater MN Meetup will focus on Greater MN start-ups, founders, and relationships, and making introductions and connections within this group. Ticketholders for the Greater MN Meetup (from 5-6 pm) are invited to stay for the VIP Showcase event from 6-7 pm, and the Showcase itself. 

If you haven’t received an invitation to the Greater MN Meetup and are interested in attending, please make an inquiry here

There are quality startups around the state that can use the exposure that comes with a slot at the top startup event of the largest startup gathering in the state (and one of the largest in the country!). We are excited to do our part connecting Greater MN with this awesome gathering. 

Events

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

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

Oct. 11th, Future Finance Forum at Allianz Field inSt. Paul, MN. “Join more than 300 CEOs, founders, VCs, government leaders, journalists and corporate executives from across the country as they connect in Minnesota to discuss the latest trends moving the fintech industry forward.”

Oct. 15th, The Dance – Automation Summit in Columbus, OH. “We’re bringing together more than 300 of the brightest minds in robotics and automation for one day summit at the Columbus Musuem of Art on October 15th.”

Nov. 6-7th, Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in Madison, WI. Investor/Entrepreneur conference with 500+ attendees.

Nov. 11-17Startup Wisconsin Week in multiple locations across the state. “Advancing Wisconsin’s tech and startup ecosystems through unique programming driven by entrepreneurs” is the mission of this state-wide happening. 

Nov. 14th, Cultivate in Fargo, ND. Put on by Emerging Prairie, this conference is all about emerging tech in agriculture.

Nov. 14th, OnRamp Manufacturing Conference in Indianapolis, IN. The OnRamp Manufacturing Conference highlights innovations disrupting the manufacturing industry, the leaders making such innovations possible and how new technologies and business models will reinvent the industry.


Portfolio News

Parallax is new to the Great North Labs portfolio. Parallax is a platform that simplifies lead planning and provides real-time answers to the most important questions, allowing businesses to succeed while crafting their vision for tomorrow.

Branch is also new to the portfolio. Branch is a mobile-first technology that helps hourly workers get ahead financially. The application allows users to budget, take paycheck advances, and earn more income by picking up available shifts.

Job Board

More information about our portfolio companies can be found here

Dispatchis hiring all over the country for Drivers and locally for Product Owner, Biz Dev, QA Engineer, UX Designer, Accounts Payable, Driver Engagement, and a CFO. 
Structural is hiring a Software Sales & Operations Support Specialist
FactoryFixis hiring a Software Engineer and Product Designer in Madison, and a Business Development Specialist and an Account Manager in Chicago.
Misty Robotics is hiring a Devops Engineer and Principal Electrical Engineer in Boulder, CO. 
2ndKitchen is hiring a Digital Marketing Manager, Customer Success Manager, Account Exec., Biz Dev Development Manager, and Director of Sales, all in Chicago, and a Product Designer in New York, NY. 
PrintWithMe is hiring a Marketing Manager and NOC Tech Support Technician in Chicago, and a Regional Sales Director for Sacramento/Bay Area and Los Angeles. Branchis hiring a Senior Fronted Engineer, Senior Backend Engineer, Android Engineer, Creative Manager, Content Marketing Manager, Senior iOS Engineer, Settlement Analyst, Customer Support Agent, Demand Generation Manager, Customer Success Manager, Account Exec., and an Office Assistant. 

May newsletter
Great North Ventures

$40M Fund II Raised!

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

Great North Ventures Raises $40 Million Fund II

Investment Thesis: Fund II Strategy
Great North Ventures

Investment Thesis: Fund II Strategy

Investment Thesis: Community-Driven Applications
Great North Ventures

Investment Theme: Community-Driven Applications

Great North Labs Newsletter December 2017
James DonFrancesco

Great North Labs Newsletter – December 2017

Rob-Back-To-The-Future-wide
Rob Weber

A Letter To My Younger Self

mixed icons with brown color and tech theme
James DonFrancesco

Great North Labs Newsletter