In this compilation episode, Josef features the best advice for founders that we picked up at our 2021 Annual Event. 

Every year, Great North gathers investors, founders, and ecosystem builders together for networking and progress updates.

In this episode, you can hear advice from our stakeholders- people who have proven they can execute- on hiring and firing, leadership, go to market, and more. 

Transcript:

0:07
Welcome to the execution is King podcast where we talk to successful startup founders, investors and ecosystem builders to uncover insights and best practices for the next generation of great global startups. This month, we have a special episode, instead of a single guest. We have advice from a ton of people. Every year, we gather all of the Great North ventures stakeholders together to network an update on the funds progress. This year, we asked attendees, founders, investors and builders, questions centered on quality execution. What’s the best advice you have for founders out there? When it comes to team building, specifically hiring and firing?

0:49
hiring and firing? I’ve heard this a number of different ways. There’s the old cliches of hire slow fire quick. And then some people follow that up with hire Quick Fire quick. I like what what my co founder Chris had brought to us where you say, let’s be really careful about who we bring on the team. And use the I think he called it the shopping mall test. And that test is like, if you hired this person, like, and on a Saturday, you saw them at a at a shopping mall unexpectedly, would you want to go up and say hi to him? It seems like a simple test. But there’s, you know, some people you might want to avoid and other people you just be like, I gotta go say hi, I can’t believe I see him at the mall. on a Saturday. So yeah, so that’s, we’ve used that approach, we have really good luck, we’ve had really good luck with Team retention. Our team is really everything to us, you know, people stay with us. You know, so we were really happy with with what we’ve built so far.

1:46
That was Todd Larson, co founder of Team genius.

1:51
You know, there’s kind of the latest and greatest theme out there that is hire slowly and fire quickly. I’m kind of borrowing that. But you know, in my career, I think being upfront with people and really focusing on making sure that as a leader, we’re all about doing servant leadership and removing roadblocks for people, and making them be the best that they can be. And really celebrating that I think is super important. That’s the way that I try to manage my teams, I try to surround myself with smart people that can bring things to the table that I necessarily don’t see right away. But I think as a team, you collaborate and you always come up with the best ideas and the best approaches. And the sum of all parts is better than just one individual.

2:36
That was James Don Francesco, president and co founder of Next Gen.

2:42
So I’ve always had a fail fast mentality, where founders typically will always just bring anyone they can get their hands on into their company, some unemployed person, their uncle, a friend. And that’s okay, in the very, very, very beginning. But as you start getting traction, if people aren’t performing well, or aren’t doing their own basic jobs, you have to cut bait, you have to get out of it. You have to make sure you’re working with people in your startup that are moving the ball every day. And if you’re in your gut, you know that somebody’s not making it I’ve seen founders be really, they’re committed to people that were there in the beginning, because those people were there in the beginning. And so they think being committed to people who were committed is a great rule. It’s a horrible rule. And it kills the opportunity for everybody. And so especially as you start getting eight and 10 people into your business, everybody knows who the nonperforming person is. But as the CEO or founder if you don’t deal with that, you start losing a lot of credibility and hindering everybody else’s opportunity.

3:55
That was Doug Berg, former founder of zap info,

4:00
growth mindset. It’s really the the number one thing that I look for when hiring people I try to look for, have you started a business a side business? Have you created something on your own? Have you demonstrated some interest in learning and getting better and being humble about what you know or don’t know? And I find that that trumps you know, experience all day as if you’ve just you’ve shown that grit to, you know, grow and persevere.

4:25
That was Chris Knutson, CEO and co founder of Team genius.

4:30
Like just general advice that I learned from doing a startup is, is really not I think, really focus on what your company’s the best at and, and not try to invent the wheel on every element. I think leverage the the knowledge of the community and your advisors, your your investors is really key.

4:52
That was Brian Biss Bala, former co founder of Ramboll and code 42.

4:58
Well, I think you got to look at hiring and firing as finding the right spot for people. And when you’re letting someone go, it’s probably because they need to go someplace else versus the emotion of the difficulty, like people have an opportunity to do great things. Sometimes they get stuck in a certain spot where they just don’t want to move to the next level or the next opportunity. So sometimes you’re kind of like letting them find their next chapter, that might be their best chapter. Certainly listening, being empathetic. It’s not easy, though, to let people go, certainly in the hiring side, business is all about people. And so you cannot take the people side of things for granted at all, you have to be very deliberate, very careful with hiring, it’s very easy to hire, very difficult to fire. So being very careful, making sure that you’re just not cutting corners on people. At the end of the day, we’re all in the people business. And so you want to make sure you have the best possible people. And so being very careful in how you onboard people, and also make sure they’re part of the culture of your organizations huge.

6:01
That was Brian Shawn born attorney at Moss and Barnett, I think

6:05
the core of it is always hire people smarter than yourself, and empower them to use their expertise, and understand what’s blocking them or what they knew needed to do their job. And then stay out of their way. And that is really hard to do. You care, you started the business. So you have some expertise, right. So you have to be kind of humble with where your expertise ends, and there’s begins or certainly eclipses yours. But you know, you’re hiring these people, because they’re really good at something that you’re not good at. Otherwise, you’re hiring wrong. You’re hiring people like you, you’re just way off base, I think the best place to start there is you have to figure out your mission, your vision and your values. And that allows you to make very easy decisions. And then people are, you know, no fault of them. They’re not bad people. It’s just they fit or they don’t. And it’s better for everyone, if you get people who fit what you’re trying to do, where you’re trying to go and how you want to do it. And then it’s really hard to do, especially in early stage companies, you got to do the performance management thing. You got to you got to hold people accountable, and make sure people are doing what they say they’re doing.

7:21
That was Andrew Schultz, CEO and co founder of noiseaware. What’s your best advice when it comes to leadership?

7:30
I would say the best advice I’ve gotten and I truly believe it is you have to love what you do and be passionate about what you do. Because as a leader, especially a CEO of a tech startup, you’re gonna face a lot of obstacles and challenges. And you got to love what you do to get through it and to get to the other side. And then you got to make your team inspire a team to get through the tough times to celebrate the good times. Without that passion can’t be done. I think with leadership, it’s one thing that’s really important for CEOs and co founders that grow something from, you know, two employees to 50 employees to 100 employees is to stay focused on the future and the vision and the mission of the company, be the one setting the metrics and the goals. But don’t be the one that’s in the in the weeds, really making people feel micromanage. So my biggest advice is stay really focused and laser focused on what are the where’s the big picture? Where are you going? And what are those important metrics that run your business. And that’s where you should be managing versus in the weeds.

8:35
That was Julie Roth Novak, CEO and co founder of party slate,

8:39
I would say two main piece of advice for leadership. One is you know, the old cliche of hire people smarter than you and get out of their way. There’s that notion that, you know, if you create a startup, you do it for one of two reasons. You either want to be rich or you want to be king. I’m personally one that wants to be rich. At the end of this, I don’t have to be in charge of a full team. I don’t have to be the boss and make sure that I command this team of people every day. So I’ve replaced myself and just about every job that I’ve done so far, including head of engineering. So that’s, that’s, that’s one of the biggest pieces of advice that I’d give.

9:17
That was Todd Larson.

9:20
Leadership wise, I would say the best advice that we’ve been given is around hiring, hiring great leaders and hiring them earlier than you think. And then I would say, I mean, the types that you want to be in business with are already pretty curious and have a mentor network, ideally that they’re working with. But having folks that can help you kind of learn some of the stuff you don’t know. And then then the other piece would be for us. We did something called the Entrepreneurial Operating System that came from a book called traction. So for us that was actually helping us like organize how we work. I mean, leadership, I think is just us being really authentic about what we’re doing where we’re going. And then doing that with a system like EOS has been really where that worked for us.

10:12
That was Ryan Hansen, CRO and co founder of dispatch.

10:16
Yeah, I think kind of in the same theme, right. But Angela Aaron’s who was the retail and apple.com. President, back when I was there, in 2014 2015. And she would always say, look, as a leader, I think you just have to basically eliminate roadblocks. Tell the people where you’re going. And again, make it so that they can be the best that they can be and show up to work every day with their best attitude. And, you know, feel free to ask questions, and basically work as a team. And I like that model for basically, hey, as a leader, I need to remove roadblocks for my people so they can do the best they can.

10:57
That was James Don Francesco.

10:59
trust people, I think is the biggest thing, find great people to work with. Because at the end of the day, you’re only as good as you are and the more quality people that you can instill trust into and they can trust you back, I think that’s really going to lead to like, ultimate success.

11:14
That was Andrew Schultz. Again,

11:17
I think leadership comes from the heart. You know, you lead from the heart, the meaning of life is love, and all mouths this time. So you find what you love, the purpose, passion. And when you’re into something, when you believe when you’re committed, leadership kind of comes audio doesn’t matter what sort of person you are, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, leaders lead with their heart, the best leaders lead with their heart, and they connect their time with the stuff they’re passionate about. And so following your heart, as a way to success and happiness, and leader being a great leader, too.

11:50
That was Brian, Shawn born again. What advice do you have for founders on go to market and customer acquisition?

11:59
So I founded a few companies. And frankly, I think I did a pretty good job of knowing like, when my product was ready to kind of show to people, I’ve met a lot of other founders that have kind of over baked or tried to over build their technology. So it was perfect and ready to go to market. And really, all you need to do is get it so that it’s ready to demo ready to show and ready to get the first couple of customers that will then help you to build the rest of the product. And to the point where they’ll even pay you to help build it the way they would want it to be. And so I’ve just seen a lot of value in like selling your idea. Maybe before it’s even an MVP, but allowing customers to pull you forward in innovation, as opposed to just a salesperson or your own ideas. I’ve seen things go off the rails a lot where a founder overthinks things and over builds things. They waste time, they waste quarters, they waste years, they kill their home equity lines, they can’t get venture funding, they aren’t hearing from customers firsthand. You know, and so I just I see them circling a lot with their ideas. And again, they burn a lot of money, and they can frustrate the heck out of the tech guys that are actually building their thing. And then they they change their mind or they add, there’s always like, Hey, I’m glad you built us to hear but now we need to add these next five features for it to, in my mind be ready to go to market. I’ve been very fortunate in that. I think our Minnesota nice stuff plays really good with customer acquisition. Even if you’re selling across the country, I’ve sold to 1000s of customers, even global customers, and they always appreciate when somebody from Minnesota is selling them a solution, we tend to listen to what they want, they tend to be better configurators if you will have like what an even a demo is. So tell me what you’re after. You know, it’s kind of like what what’s the menu? What, instead of me throwing everything at you like what are you in the mood for right now. So that’s thing one, but thing too is in go to market for entrepreneurs, you just have to be very smart. Like when you acquire your first few customers, you have to pick fights you can win. So you want to find customers that aren’t difficult, who in their mind are almost like emotional investors in what you’re doing? Because it’s going to help them with a killer part of their business. And as they do that you want them to be your early cheerleaders. You want them to be your early advocates. So one of the tricks that I did was I created what I call customer advisory boards right out of the gate and I’ll see if you’ll help me innovate. You’ll help me get you into your company, I will help innovate in the direction you want me to. But I also need you to participate. Because everything today is around. No one believes the founder of this startup, but they believe the customers that you’ve helped to accomplish something. And if you can, like I would bring customers we’d won battles with. And I would be on a demo with a big customer. And I’ll say, Hey, I hope you don’t mind. But I’ve invited one of our other customers to participate in the demo today. And they’re going to share what we’ve done for them. It’s Earth changing, to be able to have that kind of participation in your deals, because you will get to market tremendously faster than hoping or waiting to build 10 customers with 10 referenceable accounts with 10, white papers with 10. You can do a lot of this stuff in the very early days, if you just know how to ask. And I think founders are shy sometimes. And they don’t ask customers, hey, if I do something really great for you, can you then not pay me back but participate. And the irony is good. Customers love innovation, and they can’t do it in their big company. So they think that you’re their outlet for how to innovate and how to do things outside of their own kind of governance and chaos. And the right ones will actually bring you deeper and deeper into their company, as well as look at you as their outlet like they learn investor even though they’re not writing you a check. And that’s just a blast, when you start to get 2468 10 of those, the snowball just goes it’s fantastic.

16:36
That was Doug Berg. Again. It’s always

16:39
harder than you think. And I think you know, there’s a lot of things that can work a little bit. And so you have to be careful about not spreading yourself too thinly with customer acquisition, find something that you can double down on and go really deep in it versus trying to do you know, all channels, all tactics at the same time.

16:58
That was Chris Newton again. In hindsight, what’s a piece of advice you wish you had received earlier on? Wow,

17:07
okay, advice I wish I had been given before starting the company, find good partners. If you want to go fast, you need to do it with a lot of other people. I’d say. I wish that we had had more advice on legal as well as capital early on to avoid some mistakes that you can’t really out execute your way out of.

17:34
That was Ryan Hansen. Again,

17:36
that’s a really good question. Number one, you can’t use an outside tech firm to build your MVP. I wasted I was just me at the beginning, I wasted probably $100,000, which at the time seemed like a lot of money. I know it’s not in the context of a big raise. But working with an outside digital agency. I thought that’s my background, I can manage them. And really what I found would have been better is to get a group of contractors get in a room whiteboard together, get them really invested in the company and build together that way. And so when my tech co founder joined me nine months after I started, we threw away everything that the digital agency build started from scratch.

18:21
That was duly rough no back again.

18:24
Try to learn from others as much as you can, I think know where you’ve reached like I you know, I think our team, we needed to get outside help sooner than we did. So it was really important to kind of seek that outside help. And we also, we did an incredible job. Kind of scaling the company from the three of us to 400 people. So that was an incredible journey and learning experience.

18:52
That was Brian Biss Bala, again.

18:55
Well, I’ll tell you some of the best advice I got from the investors as I grew the company, the first was, best time to fundraise is when you’re high on mystery and low on history. Best time to move into a new market is when you’re pulled. Read every legal document you sign. These seem fundamental but sometimes overlooked. And cliche but when you ask for advice, you get money. When you ask for money, you get advice.

19:27
That was Andrew Schultz again.

19:29
Well, I think that the idea that business is about people, you know, you get so excited about the business model, you get excited about the opportunity, the deal, and you lose sight of the execution and the people and realizing that business is about people like I mentioned and and having the right people by your side makes a difference. You having a quality people with a C opportunity, they’re going to be wildly successful. If you have C’s or DS or F people with an A plus opportunity, you’re gonna fail. So it’s finding great people realizing the importance of people and the quality of people, not just their ability mentally or to be able to execute, but just who they are as people, their ethics, their character, you know, you can you can teach them a lot along the way, but they have to be wired the right way. I think that’s that’s kind of the biggest lesson I learned along the way is just never ever lose sight of the importance of people when you have the right people and the best people with you. Everything’s possible.

20:26
That was Brian, Shawn, born again. Was there anyone who particularly went out of their way to help you to become successful? Who was it? And what did they do for you,

20:37
the startup process, I met somebody early on. So when I started building the initial MVP, my goal was to get it out in front of as many people as I could. One of the obvious connections with our player evaluation tool was with a company called AI soccer, which was founded by Scott Lieber, out down out in Silicon Valley, he had developed this sort of national standard curriculum for how to measure how good a soccer player is, through a series of 19 measurable tests. And I was sort of building my evaluation tool, using that curriculum as part of the foundation as like an example of what you could do. So I met with him in person out at the United Soccer Coaches convention, it was my first time showing off the app, he came and talked to me, gave me a lot of great encouragement, told me to go read the Lean Startup, which was a wonderful like this sort of, you know, what every founder should be reading, right? And really, really got me off to a great positive start.

21:41
That was Todd Larson. Again.

21:43
For me, and closer network, I’d say the several of the founders that I worked with that sports engine, were invaluable to me when we went out on our own journey, to be able to come back to some of those folks who were founders and had done this before and ask for their perspective, and maybe help us with with some of the items, help us kind of learn what we had no idea we didn’t know. And then I’d say, We’ve been really fortunate the network around here, in terms of like access to capital, the different like, whether it’s beta.mn, great. North is a great example. And many others, I don’t know, we’ve had great resources available to us through either the, you know, old network connections that had started businesses like this or or folks that were volunteering to help.

22:33
That was Ryan Hansen again,

22:35
yeah, I think, in the early days is an example Mindy Weiss, who’s a celebrity event planner out of LA really was drawn to our model of really focusing on events for the inspiration, not hairstyles or dresses, or, you know, great gifts, it was all about the creativity of the event itself. And so very early on Mindy Weiss, who does all the Kardashian parties and everything else, came onto our advisory board. And literally, I had just launched it was a PowerPoint in a dream. And she said, Julie, I want to help you. And by getting Mindy Weiss on board, probably one of the most well known wedding and event planners in the country, if not the world, she really legitimize what we are doing and our vision. And that helps get a lot other people on board a party slave,

23:23
that was duly Roth Novak. Again,

23:27
I would say kind of a hybrid, I have had people along the way who have mentored me, and who have really encouraged me to be the best that I can be, who have told me James, you know what, even though the crowd might say, Don’t be genuine or authentic. Sometimes you have to kind of skip ahead or omit certain things, I’ve learned that I’m going to be honest and frank, and I’m going to do the best I can every day. And so the mentors that I’ve had in my life helped solidify that. I also would say, Yeah, I’ve had to work pretty hard to get to where I am. And I think the networks that you build, even way back when I started college and met Ryan and Rob, obviously that was helpful to get to know these guys, because, you know, it’s it’s, as they always say, it’s lines, not dots, you don’t come in heavy and hope to get, you know, a top notch position. And you know, from one interview, right, you it’s a it’s a long term relationship. We’ve gotten to know each other. And I think that that’s really special. And so Robin Ryan, obviously are incredible founders themselves, incredible leaders and, you know, really people that I look up to from, you know, how do you do a startup and the subject matter expertise, in particular, Ryan as a card investor is somebody who I’ve gotten to know much deeper, because he’s got all these insights that represents my customer. And so that’s been really helpful to be able to access his brain and of course, he’s incredibly knowledgeable about that stuff.

24:56
That was James Don Francesco again

25:00
A few people along the ways some of our angel investors that were seasoned entrepreneurs and seasoned investors that had been through many different companies were able to provide with lots of, I guess, more than answers questions, because like, what I found is the answer doesn’t matter nearly as much as the question. So knowing the right things to ask at the right time, that’s probably been the best piece of advice.

25:21
That was Jai kissoon, president of treble LLC.

25:27
I’m gonna say Brian schoenborn. Brian is on our board. And, you know, he’s an investor. But he spent a lot of time you know, early on connecting the dots for us. I’d say at least half of our investors came through Brian, and he’s put a lot of time we talk to him every single week in our early days. Advisory calls put a lot of time aside for us.

25:51
That was Chris Knutson again,

25:54
well, I can’t think of anything. Any specific person other than my two co founders, I think having three founders of a company was vital, because, you know, as any startup can attest to there’s definitely ups and downs. So without the benefit of your of great partners that you really trust, the support you through those ups and downs, you know, one person can have be having a crappy day and the other person can really help keep you going. I think we had many moments where we were like, What the hell are we doing here? Why are we doing this and like that, I think the combination of having those key founders those, those people you are in battle with and living that through really help keep you going. So that I think my two partners are on was the ones that I think of top of mine. So

26:45
that was Brian Biss Bala, again,

26:47
our very first investor, I still talk to on a weekly basis, generally for less than 30 minutes, but just a real quick check in. And it’s the hardest part about starting a company and leading company is you’re kind of alone. There’s no one you can really ask for advice. You’re, by definition, the expert in the world or whatever you do. And having some outside perspective, just ask, just talk through the issues you’re dealing with is is incredibly valuable. Whether it helps or not, I still have the choice to take their advice or not. But just the ability to talk through it not feel alone is incredibly, incredibly important.

27:23
That was Andrew Schultz again. We’ll close with Jai kissoon, giving his best advice to founders on fundraising, which is just great, general advice for founders as well have your

27:37
story down. I mean, honestly, it really comes down to having that guiding mission. And I know it’s bigger than a mission statement bigger than a value statement, but and then bringing everything back to that story and being able to have you know, everything reflected from financial performance to what you’re doing in marketing, really fall in line in line with that story.

28:01
Thanks for joining us on execution is King

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Welcome to our first newsletter of 2021! 

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

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

But what about our educational institutions? 

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

But what about the University of Minnesota?
 

How the U of MN is Embracing Startup Culture


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

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

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

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

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


Read the full story.

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


MEDA Million Dollar Challenge Winners


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

The winners are: 

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

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

Events

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

Portfolio News

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

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

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

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinician Nexus is hiring
Customer Success Manager- MINNEAPOLIS, MN

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

The world is changing, and a new wave of tech entrepreneurs are shaping the new normal. The tech sector is performing well as the need for innovation, necessitated by the pandemic, becomes more urgent. 

As digital transformation accelerates in all sectors, and our country re-establishes its economic future, we are working to cultivate tech entrepreneurs in the Upper Midwest. By increasing the capacity of our innovation ecosystem, we can produce more startup successes locally. This benefits not only current founders and investors, but contributes to a sustainable economic future of the entire region. 

Building Capacity

We build capacity by donating time, money, and equity to organizations that support founders. Not every organization, but the ones we see as most impactful. By donating to those organizations, we support founders, the startup ecosystem, and the entire innovation economy. 

Startups are fantastic drivers of economic activity. They are growth engines that take in capital and put out jobs – as well as create their own value. That’s why it’s so important to support them- and the organizations that encourage, enable, and enhance their existence.

So have we put our money where out mouth is? Any returning newsletter reader can attest that we certainly talk about building up the ecosystem enough. Well, now it’s time for us to shut up and put up. Check out our complete cash, equity, and time donations to date, along with the organizations we donate to.

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.- Source: Brookings article “As the venture capital game gets bigger, the Midwest keeps missing out

If you are a founder or startup employee that is interested in rising to the challenge, check out our Founders Pledge. It is as simple as pledging to donate 1% or more of equity to the nonprofits that you find worthwhile. If you eventually have a big exit, that donation can mean MAJOR impact for a nonprofit organization. Our founding partners have pledged at least 2% of their personal interests in our debut fund, and we look forward to sharing our success with these impactful nonprofits. 

Ethical Entrepreneurship

“The question ‘does this make for a better society?’ is a question we don’t typically ask entrepreneurs to think about, but they should be” says Laura Dunham, Associate Dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at St. Thomas University. Dunham was recently featured on Stanford Innovation Lab’s podcast, eCorner. 

Dunham speaks specifically to ethical behavior among entrepreneurs, but the same principle applies to us. So, does our investing make for a better society? Do our capacity building efforts bear fruit? 

Time will tell on the tech side of things, but we can share some impact metrics. So far we have invested in 22 early-stage startups. They have attracted $138.4M in total funding, and have created ~750 jobs. Of those startups, 2 have rural presences (HQ or significant office), 4 have female founders, and 3 have minority founders and combined. These startups from underrepresented categories account for 30% of our invested capital to date.

Events

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

Portfolio News

Airbnb to Ban or Cancel One-Night Stays on Halloween Weekend to Deter House PartiesNoiseAware has a new deal with Vrbo, as Halloween brings a round of pre-emptive, “possible Halloween party” cancellations to AirBnB. 

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

BabyQuip and Inhabitr Form Strategic Partnership to Provide Long Term Baby Gear Rentals to Millennial FamiliesInhabitr has a new partnership to provide baby gear rentals through its furniture rental platform. 

Job Board

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

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

PrintWithMe ishiring Regional Sales Directors on the East Coast and in Texas; Operations Lead in Chicago, IL; VS/SVP of Operations, Marketing Director, Inside Sales Executive, and Director of Revenue Operations for Remote work.

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

Branch is hiring a Data Platform Manager, Senior Software Engineer, and Enterprise Support Specialist for remote work.

Inhabitr is hiring an Operations & Customer Experience Director – B2B Team in Chicago, IL.

Clinician Nexusis hiring a Customer Success Manager in Minneapolis, MN. 

NoiseAwareis hiring a Director of Finance, QA Technician (independent contractor), Account Manager, and a Customer Advocate in Dallas, TX.

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

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.  

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. 

The Innovation Ecosystem


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

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

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

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

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

Speakers include:

MN DEED policy update

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

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

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

Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portfolio

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

Advisors

Three Great North Labs advisors are new to the team

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

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

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


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

Job Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The annual MinneBar event, hosted by non-profit Minnestar, is the largest bar camp-style conference in the country. Saturday, April 27th was the fourteenth incarnation of this highly anticipated event, and it did not disappoint. How highly anticipated was it? Tickets were released in two waves this year, and the first wave sold out in under 7 minutes. Total attendance for the 165+ sessions at Best Buy HQ in Richfield was 1,700.

Minnebar has become Minnesota’s version of South by Southwest

-random Minnebar14 attendee

As one passerby put it, MinneBar has become Minnesota’s version of South By Southwest. Don Ball, cofounder of coworking space COCO (now Fueled Collective) credits Managing Director Maria Ploessl and her crew for keeping it a “pure experience”. “Lesser minds would kill it off through monetization,” said Ball.

Becky Lauseng, Director of HR at the ag-tech software company Conservis and a Minnebar newbie, shared her glowing review with Great North, “This year was my first time attending Minnebar and wow, was I impressed! I’m already looking forward to next year!  From the variety of topics offered in the breakout sessions, to the passionate and forward thinking presenters, this event was so valuable to me.  For someone who supports a local technology company and its employees, I gained a lot of insight on current trends, ideas and technology advancements that I can take back to work and apply.  I can’t wait for next year!”

Great North Labs is a proud supporter of Minnestar and Minnebar. Our advisors Sona Mehring and Alex Ryan are board members, while advisor Ben Edwards and Great North Labs Managing Partner Rob Weber sit on the Advisory Board. Edwards is actually the co-founder of MinneBar and Minnestar, and he returned this year to represent his current startup (and Great North Labs portfolio company) Misty Robotics. We were glad to be a part of another successful Minnebar, and to see a strong showing from the MN tech community. Here are some of the highlights.

Diversity and Inclusion in Tech

The day started as it always does with Session 0. This year’s presenter was Sharon Kennedy Vickers, Chief Information Officer for the City of St. Paul. Vickers is a 2018 Bush Fellow, and is the co-founder of Techquity, and co-organizer of CodeSwitch and Open Twin Cities.

Rob Weber at the opening remarks

A key point from Vickers’s speech was that one of tech’s greatest pitfalls is in overvaluing “outputs” of users and workers compared to their inputs. She is working towards an inclusive innovation economy, and making Minnesota a great place to launch tech products with social impact.

“Diversity is the invitation into the room. Inclusion is the offer to dance.”

Elliot Payne

Later in the day, Jeff Lin hosted a panel on the importance of diversity in tech, with Antoinette Smith, Jenessa White, Elliott Payne, and Philip Xiao. As Elliott put it, “Diversity is the invitation into the room. Inclusion is the offer to dance.”

At Great North, we believe that founders in rural areas also work at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to accessing capital and receiving strong mentorship. We work with these founders through the tech and entrepreneur communities in cities like Sioux Falls, Fargo, and St. Cloud. So we were glad to see Caitlyn Casper from St. Cloud State’s Entrepreneurship Club taking part in her first Minnebar!

VC Reverse Pitch

Our team’s first presentation of the day was voted into the largest room, the Theater. Great North Labs Managing Partner Rob Weber presented “VC Reverse Pitch” alongside Mary Grove, partner in Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund (ROTR). The session shared a fund manager’s perspective on what they seek to know when determining whether a startup is worth investing in and how a VC can help a founder grow their business. It was packed with founders looking for inside knowledge on securing investment.

“They are good friends, co-workers, and partners.”- Mary Grove, ROTR partner

Among his opening remarks was a tidbit of valuable advice for founders. Rob talked about how important it was for a founder to be knowledgeable and able to provide an overview of their total addressable market (TAM) as experts in that industry. Weber also frequently encountered founders being unable to explain how their startup’s primary distribution model connects to their serviceable market (SAM).

Mary Grove later seconded this notion, as she said that many times what got ROTR excited was when they could look at a fleshed out growth plan, charted out for months in advance. She recommended that founders provide quarterly follow-ups to fund managers with key progress updates.

“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.”

Mary Grove, Partner, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund

Grove highlighted the importance of finding good, trustworthy co-investment partners to complete a successful venture round, and talked about why Revolution like to partner with Great North Labs on deals. “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.” She had more glowing words for the Weber twins early on, saying, “They are good friends, co-workers, and partners.”

She also stated that it is time for the Twin Cities to be nationally recognized, and we at Great North Labs agree with this wholeheartedly. We think that Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, and their mission of driving economic advance and funding great startups in states outside of traditional VC funding, is the ideal partner in driving this national recognition.

Intro to Exponential Technology & Leadership

Ryan Weber, Great North Labs managing partner (and Rob Weber’s brother), opened by explaining what compelled him to help establish a new chapter of Singularity University’s global community. After attending their executive education program in Silicon Valley, he returned home inspired by the future changes around the corner, and the possibility for global, positive impact by using these technologies for good. He joined the founding team of SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul in hopes of educating and inspiring others to work on moonshot projects aimed at changing the world instead of simply solving problems. 

Weber shared local startups that are using exponential technologies

The local tech community has gone through extensive growth in the past 5 years, and is becoming one of the best places to form a startup in the country. However, Silicon Valley is far ahead of us when it comes to startups with grand, world-changing visions. Weber believes that to take the tech community even further, we need to study the world’s greatest challenges, and see how we can exploit new exponential technologies to provide solutions that are ten times or more better than what is currently available. 

Weber’s presentation included an introduction to the concept of exponential thinking, a review of a few of the most promising new technologies with examples of local startups going after moonshots utilizing them, and closed with a call-to-action to join the movement by joining the chapter. Membership in SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter is free. The chapter’s kickoff event is at UMN-Carlson on the evening of June 4th, and non-members are welcome to attend.

Creating a MoonShot

Ryan Weber and The Sota Enterprises CEO (and Great North Labs Advisor), Nick Tietz, facilitated a working session focused on design to promote moonshot thinking and the new SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter. In 45 minutes they took a packed room of about 75 people through a structured process to generate a moonshot project.

Participants chose a Grand Challenge to work on, then used two methodologies, “Question Storming” and “Future Wheels”, to crystallize a moonshot statement that embodied the key elements of a world-changing project. Each participant left with a self-generated moonshot idea to solve a major problem facing the world that they would be interested in tackling.

Work Space Selection: Aligning Work Space With Your Company’s Growth

While MinneBar is rife with practitioners teaching multiple skill levels in technical niches, it has really broadened its offerings compared to the early days. This year included a presentation on Korean Skin Care, Personal Finance for Programmers, and even one unlisted, pop-up session titled “How I Accidentally Started a Bank in Nigeria” [Or was it Angola? I forget the country].

One interesting, non-technical session addressed the workspace needs of companies with rapidly expanding employee numbers. David Anderson (Frauenshuh commercial real estate service provider) and David Paeper (HGA architects) provided great advice for growth companies on how to align their work space with their company’s growth. “Your most valuable asset is your people so your space needs to make them your first priority” said David. 

David Anderson and David Paeper talked about tailoring work spaces for growing startups

Their presentation covered a wide breadth of topics including Location, Amenities, Value, Design + Culture, Well-Being + Safety, and Function + Aesthetics. Key takeaways include:

  1. Subleasing – Subleasing often provides the most flexibility and value.  Most, but not all, sublet space can be searched for on an exchange to help a tenant quickly find what’s on the market.
  2. Visualization Helps Determine Location – They showed examples with overlaid visuals on a map, used to explore where a companies staff live and where the transit options are, in order to determine the optimal location.
  3. Suburbs vs. Downtown – The costs for the same quality of space are typically similar downtown versus in the suburbs. However, parking typically is an added expense for being downtown. 
  4. Compression Planning – A growth company should utilize compression planning in their real estate plan to help them understand how they can utilize their space effectively from the onset and after they achieve their expected growth without incurring unexpected costs.
  5. Freestanding Furniture Is Best – Freestanding furniture has greater reusability and is becoming more strongly preferred compared to panel furniture for tech companies whose need to reconfigure frequently

Sharing the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Tech Community Story with the World

For the entrepreneurs and for the tech talent, what’s going on matters, the ecosystem matters, the way we tell our story matters.

Meg Steuer, Forge North

A panel of presenters including Tiffany Orth of Make It. Msp, and Matt Lewis and Meg Steuer of Forge North talked about the importance of storytelling when building and promoting the local tech and innovation ecosystem. While economic opportunity is first and foremost, the whole presentation served as a reminder of all the great reasons why the the area is a good place to work, live, and grow a business.

Moving Forward

Mary Grove’s husband, Steve Grove, is working to drive changes at the state level as the new commissioner of MN DEED. The Minnesota Innovation Collaborative is an important effort to inject some growth into Minnesota’s innovation economy. While the Twin Cities metro has the most Fortune 500 companies per capita among US cities, many of them are from the 1970s or earlier, and we aren’t generating new ones at a lead-sustaining pace. Many parts of the state, including declining rural areas and the Iron Range, are in dire need of economic innovation. While we believe that private investment (like ours and that of ROTR) can drive growth in these areas, we believe that the most impactful approach includes public action as well.

MinneBar is a welcome reminder of the power of community, and of the promise of technology to create a better life. Whether you want to create a moonshot, build an exponential tech startup, get funding for a high-growth venture, house your growing company, or attract out-of-state talent, it’s good to know you are welcome at MinneBar, and in the diverse, inclusive tech ecosystem that is growing here in Minnesota and the upper Midwest.

Great North Labs is proud to work with and support organizations like Minnestar, SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul, Forge North, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, and the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative. We are fortunate to be part of this growing, talented, and inclusive tech and innovation community that is among the best and most economically promising in the country. And we are excited to facilitate rapid, innovative growth in early-stage startups by bringing capital, experience, and our network to bear in this rich environment.

The Minnesota Innovation Collaborative (MIC) is one of the most exciting items in this year’s budget. It is a program under the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), led by former Google/YouTube exec and Silicon Valley boomerang, Commissioner Steve Grove.

The program calls for $4.5M in 2020 and 2021 to grow the startup and innovation ecosystem, which is a critical part of our economic future. The MIC funding will support incentives, education, and outreach. Specific provisions include a MIC office where classes will be held and outreach will be headquartered, $5-50k grants for early-stage startups, and grants for organizations around the state that can provide training and outreach to greater Minnesota. Below is the executive summary of the program.

We fully support this initiative and encourage you to reach out to your state representatives and encourage them to support funding this program. Click on this link to find your state representative’s email and send them a quick note: “I support the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative!”

Improving the Culture for Entrepreneurship

Many efforts are underway to continue to improve the culture for entrepreneurship in Minnesota and other Midwest states, ranging from policy driven efforts to increase access to capital for startup founders to workforce development initiatives to ensure the right talent is interested and available in high growth startup jobs.

On the government side, forexample, the governor’s just-released budget includes funding for the creation of the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative, which is designed to accelerate the growth of the innovation ecosystem. Theproposed budget also includes thereturn of an Angel Tax Credit forMN. 

Walker Orenstein spoke with Great North Labs Managing Partner Rob Weber on the MN Angel Tax Credit for MinnPost: In a follow-up interview, Weber outlined his pitch for bringing back the tax credit. For starters, he said Minnesotans tend to take fewer chances when investing compared to tech hubs like California and Washington state.

An angel tax credit can make it easier for investors to take a leap of faith on the off chance they bet on, say, the next 3M, Weber said. “Government can play a role getting the culture to be a little more risk tolerant,” Weber said. He pointed to Finland, where the government has offered aggressive help to entrepreneurs, as an extreme example of prodding the private sector into building a robust technology industry.

On the workforce development side, over 200 startup enthusiasts attended a recent Beta.MN event, MN Tech – State of the State, where the role of stock options in startups was brought up by Rob Weber. Rob shared his ‘manifesto’ on why stock options need to be more prevalent in regional startups if they are to succeed, and why those options need to be valued by employees of early-stage startups.

Lee Schafer followed up on the topic with Rob for a column in the Star Tribune“What the Silicon Valley ecosystem has figured out is the top talent can bounce back and forth between high-paying corporate jobs with low upside, and riskier, earlier-stage jobs with more upside, assuming stock options are present,” Weber said. “The Twin Cities could potentially create the same kind of dynamic because of how blessed it is with large [corporations].” 

This opportunity architecture that Rob describes is a de facto talent exchange that brings experience to startups and innovation to large corporations. Workforce development occurs naturally in this system through existing incentives. 

Here in the upper Midwest, we can create an innovation ecosystem that promotes risk-tolerant investment and rewards risk-taking talent, and match the ongoing development and sustained economic impact of the cities with even the most successful startup cultures. 

MN DEED commissioner Steve Grove recently met with some of Minnesota’s top VCs (including Rob and Ryan Weber) to talk about how to grow the startup ecosystem. 

Events

February 20th, St. Paul, MN. Minne Inno’s first State of Innovation Meetup of 2019 will be held at Osborn370 from 5:30-8pm. It will feature trends in retail andtech with Branch Messenger CEO Atif Siddiqi, and pitches from the first cohort of Lunar Startups, the new accelerator based at Osborn370. 

February 21st, Minneapolis, MN. WE* Pitchfest is a pitch event held at UMN- Carlson from 5-7pm. Organized by the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, the event seeks to inspire more women to pursue entrepreneurship, and to connect those that do with the resources they need. 

March 6th, Fargo, ND. The Prairie Capital Summit will take place at the PrairieDen in Fargo. Great North Labs advisor Greg Tehven is the Executive Director of Emerging Prairie, the founder and host of the Summit. Emerging Prairiehosts recurring conferences and runs multiple events throughout the year in support of startups and the startup ecosystem, including the Prairie CapitalSummit, which is in its third year. Great North Labs Managing Partner Ryan Weber will be speaking.

March 7th, Eau Claire, WI. Intro to Exponential Technology and Leadership will be from 6:30-8pm at CoLAB. Ryan Weber, managing partner at Great North Labs and co-ambassador of Singularity University Minneapolis-St.Paul Chapter, will speak. The talk focuses on exponential trends in technology that are poised to disrupt our lives, work, and economy. The event is co-sponsored by UW-Eau Claire and CoLAB. 

March 8th, Minneapolis, MN. Tech Cities at UMN-Carlson. This annual event explores issues and topics surrounding business and tech in Minnesota, andaround the world.  

March 8-17th, Austin, TX. SXSW (South By Southwest). This annual event has turned into a cultural touchpoint for this generation, with high-level focus areas of Art, Film, and “Interactive” – which is sort of a Tech catch-all that includes startups, investing, marketing, coding, and more. The Entrepreneurship & Startups track is from Mar. 8-12th. The energy and impact of this massive event transcends the actual conference and city, so even if you don’t attend, you’ll be sure to hear about it during and after. 

March 14th, Fort Snelling, MN. Minnesota Entrepreneur Kickoff. The 9th incarnation of this annual event aims to celebrate and sustain local entrepreneurs. It is hosted by the Minnesota Entrepreneur Network, which supports local entrepreneurs and is committed to growing the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Ryan Weber will be speaking on Exponential Technology as an intro to the featured panel on Emergent Technology. 

March 19-20th, Kansas City, MO. “InvestMidwest is a venture capitalconference that showcases 40-45 companies from throughout the Midwest in the three industry tracks of life sciences, technology and food/ag/bioenergy.” The 20th annual event is expected to attract over 300 attendees, including a mix of founders and investors. 

Portfolio action

2ndKitchen is new to the Great North Labs portfolio. 2ndKitchen is a hyperlocal, food ordering fulfillment platform that enables businesses anywhere to serve food seamlessly using a custom menu from nearby restaurants .

Advisor news

Two Great North Labs advisors are new to the website!

Jack Dempsey is an investor, board member, and CEO mentor. He is a former senior partner at McKinsey & Co, and former President of Pentair, Inc.. 
Joe Sriver was the first UX hire at Google. He is a repeat founder, of startups Revirs and DoApp, and is currently the Chief Giver at 4giving.

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring Field Sales Representatives and Drivers in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Bloomington, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Columbus, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, New Brunswick, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Antonio, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.
Structural is hiring a remote Account Executive.
FactoryFix is hiring a Software Engineer in Madison, and a Business Development Specialist and an Account Manager in Chicago.
Misty Robotics is hiring a Developer Writer, Head of Hardware, and Head of Quality in Boulder. 
2ndKitchen is hiring for roles in Brooklyn, Chicago, and Milwaukee, including Director of Sales, Full-Stack Developer, Account Executive, and 2 Customer Success Managers

Exponential Tech with SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul

Great North Labs Managing Partner Ryan Weber is now co-ambassador for Singularity University’s chapter here in the Twin Cities! SingularityU Minneapolis-St.Paul is one of 126 SU chapters in 63 countries. 

Singularity University is a global learning and innovation community using exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges. Through their Grand Challenges, SU provokes moonshot thinking with global impact. Headquartered at NASA in Silicon Valley, SingularityUniversity empowers individuals andorganizations across the globe to learn, connect, and innovate breakthrough solutions using accelerating technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, anddigital biology. 

“In venture capital, we are looking at the next ten years- Singularity is looking beyond that at the next hundred.” – Ryan Weber

Great North Labs is excited to be part of this accomplished global community of innovators, and we think Singularity University is an important addition to the local techand venture ecosystem. Like Ryan and Rob Weber’s (and our advisors’) involvement in local incubator/accelerator mentorship programs, this venture will help develop and support the tech andstartup ecosystem in Minnesota andacross the Midwest. 

Technology is changing at an exponential pace, and bringing exponential changes with it (think cell phones, or the internet). There are people on the coasts at thebleeding edge of this new tech, generating patents and research, and many of these advances can be used here to create value with new products and startups.  

“The Midwest is in a unique position because of the large incumbent industry players, so that even if most of the research and patents are being created on the coasts, we are in the best position to create applications to harness these technologies.” -Ryan Weber

For example, while it may have been a Stanford team that led the charge to create the first self-driving vehicles, guess where they are building self-driving tractors? In Fargo, the Grand Farms initiative has applied for a grant to build thefirst fully-autonomous farm by 2025. One of the leaders of this moonshot initiative is Greg Tehven, executive director of Emerging Prairie and a Great North Labs advisor

Tomorrow, Nov. 9, Ryan Weber is partnering with Tehven to bring Great North Labs and SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul to Fargo with an Intro to Exponential Technology & LeadershipThe talk is from 3-4 p.m. at Prairie Den. If you’re in Fargo andwant to meet with Ryan one-on-one, sign up for a meeting time

Events

Nov. 27th-28th, IoT Summit Chicago, Chicago. In its sixth year, IoT Summit Chicago is a convergence of IoT thought leadership and innovation from across the region.

Nov. 29th2018 Tekne Awards, Minneapolis. “Each year the Tekne Awards shine a spotlight on Minnesota’s science and technology community by honoring innovation across numerous industries.”

Dec. 4th, December “State of Innovation” Meetup, Minneapolis. MinneInno’s periodic exploration of Twin Cities startup and innovation scene features food, drink, and networking in addition to a speaker, panel, or showcase. 

TBD, Anderson Center Governance Forum, 2019 dates and locations are forthcoming for this St. Cloud-based, 3-day forum aimed at improving theperformance and effectiveness of directors and board members. Visit thewebsite for inquiries.


Portfolio action

Dispatch is enjoying some remarkable growth, including mulit-city expansion, which has also led to increased investor interest.   

Great North Labs is considering multiple investments for Q4, as well as follow-on investments with existing investees. More exciting announcements are to come!


New advisors

Great North Labs recently welcomed four new advisors:

Ann Rupnow is the Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Coordinator at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Greg Tehven is the co-founder and director of Emerging Prairie, an adjunct professor at North Dakota State University’s College of Business, curator ofTEDxFargo, and host of 1 Million Cups Fargo.

John Sheehan is the VP of Product Management at CA Technologies. He formerly was the co-founder Runscope, and headed Developer Evangelism at Twilio.

Daren Cotter is the founder & CEO of InboxDollars. 

Welcome to the team!


Job Board

Dispatch is hiring Drivers in Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Orlando (and Ft. Mary), Fort Worth, and Minneapolis (and St. Paul and Golden Valley).
Structural is hiring an Account Executive and an Office Administrator.
FactoryFix is hiring a Vue.js Developer, and a Business Development Rep.
Team Genius  – watch for postings on the Team Genius website.
Pitchly – watch for postings on the Pitchly website
ZAPinfo – watch for postings on the ZAPinfo website.

July Newsletter
Great North Ventures

iraLogix closes $22M + Branch expands with Uber

iraLogix Closes Series C
Great North Ventures

iraLogix closes $22M Series C

June Newsletter
Great North Ventures

Flywheel lands Gates Foundation grant

We're Hiring
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Venture Capital Analyst

We're Hiring
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Executive Assistant – Venture Capital Firm

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

Great North Ventures Raises $40 Million Fund II

Investment Thesis: Fund II Strategy
Great North Ventures

Investment Thesis: Fund II Strategy

Investment Thesis: Community-Driven Applications
Great North Ventures

Investment Theme: Community-Driven Applications

Fund II Theses: Solving Labor Problems
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Investment Theme: Solving Labor Problems

April Newsletter
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Trends in the Gig Economy + Work in the Metaverse

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MinneBar 14 Recap

Minnesota Innovation Collaborative
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Minnesota Innovation Collaborative

engineer and various business information. Internet of things industry.
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IoT 3.0

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Healthcare Innovation