2019 is here! Since Great North Labs is a proponent of iterating based on data-driven feedback, it’s time for a look at the best-performing content from 2018. What captured people’s interest? What is the Great North community interested in?

The Posts


  1. Facebook controversy. Rob Weber’s post about Sheryl Sandberg and the importance of “integrators” titled, of course, “Sheryl Sandberg and the Importance of Integrators“,is the top post of the year. The Facebook COO faced a lot of criticism in the past year, and Mark Zuckerberg, the Woz to Sandberg’s Jobs, found himself testifying before Congress this past April for 10 hours. Facebook has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of data breaches and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and public interest remains high as the 68% of Americans who use Facebook grapple with the implications of data insecurity.
  2. The Internet of Things. Pradip Madan’s white paper on the third generation of IoT and the industrial internet is well-researched and thought-provoking, with input by Great North Labs advisors at Protolabs and Misty Robotics. Pradip makes the case that we are uniquely situated in the upper Midwest to originate the next wave of tech-enabled disruption in IoT in “IoT 3.0“.
  3. Venture capital investing. Pradip Madan writes about VC as an investment class is his white paper, “Where to Invest in the Midwest: Venture Across Asset Classes“. He examines the benefits of venture investing as an asset class even during a down cycle, and how funds can provide protection from multi-year downturns. Pradip also enumerates the unique advantages that Midwest venture funds offer.
  4. The Midwest tech ecosystem. “Putting the ‘Silicon’ in Silicon Lakes”, by Great North Labs Managing Partners, Rob Weber, Ryan Weber, and Pradip Madan, enumerates the key ingredients required to create an innovation hub like Silicon Valley that fosters growth and startups. It is part mission statement, part love letter, and all about the opportunity present in the upper Midwest.


For more content, click below to browse all of our articles. You can also sign up below to receive our newsletter, which has job links, portfolio news and events in addition to articles; or follow the links to social media and video content on Youtube.

Can the Upper Midwest drive digital innovation in manufacturing and logistics?

Legacy Manufacturing Hubs
Manufacturing and farming ecosystems in the US and around the world have developed around a combination of the following ingredients: raw materials (minerals, crops), energy (electric, hydro, wind, solar), logistics (bays/ports, rivers, roads), talent/labor pools, and viable operating economics. A combination of investment capital, balance sheet leverage, and public policy has provided the needed financial backing to scale up.
In the US, several manufacturing ecosystems have come to exist in different regions over the decades, focusing on aerospace/avionics, automotive, food and farming, healthcare, metals and mining, oil and gas, and semiconductors/electronic components/systems. Upper Midwestern states are prominent in this list. These ecosystems have been using current-generation industrial/process controls systems, heavy equipment, and ERP systems.

Industry Region Anchor Companies
Aerospace/Avionics California McDonnell Douglas, Hughes Aircraft.
Kansas Beechcraft, Cessna.
Washington Boeing.
Automotive Michigan, Indiana, Ohio Chrysler, Ford, GM, Visteon.
North Carolina Borg Warner, Bridgestone, Caterpillar, Continental, Cooper, Daimler, Denso, Freightliner, Goodyear.
South Carolina BMW, Mercedes, Bridgestone, Volvo, Magna.
Food and farming Central Valley, California Del Monte, Dole.
Wine Country, California Gallo, Mondavi, Jackson, J Lohr, Korbel, Rutherford, Sebastiani, Sutter, Wente.
Minnesota Cargill, General Mills, Land O’Lakes, Hormel Foods.
Missouri Monsanto.
Wisconsin Schreiber Foods.
Iowa Rembrandt, Burke, West Liberty.
Idaho Simplot.
Healthcare Minnesota Boston Scientific, Mayo, Medtronic.
Illinois Abbott Labs.
Industrial Equipment Illinois Caterpillar.
Iowa John Deere, Vermeer.
Minnesota Honeywell.
Wisconsin Rockwell Automation.
Metals Pennsylvania, Ohio Bethlehem Steel, U S Steel, USX.
Mining and materials Minnesota 3M.
Oil and gas New Jersey Arco.
Texas Exxon-Mobil, Schlumberger, Valero.
Paper Idaho Boise-Cascade.
Semi-conductors Silicon Valley ICs – Broadcom, Intel, nVidia, Marvell, SanDisk/Western Digital.
IC manufacturing equipment – Applied Materials, LAM Research.
San Diego ICs – Qualcomm.
Idaho ICs – Micron.

 Table 1: US regions, manufacturing ecosystems, and key anchor companies.
Digital Manufacturing – Requirements
In the age of ‘traditional’ manufacturing, the resources needed included:

In the age of digital manufacturing, from design to shipping, the following capabilities are important:

Advanced technologies useful for these capabilities include:

Next-generation digital manufacturing initiatives have taken root in regions where current manufacturing ecosystems have existed. For example, Tesla’s California factory is housed in the earlier NUUMI (General Motors and Toyota) plant in Fremont in Silicon Valley, where the plant was originally set up in 1960 by General Motors due to cheap land, the port of Oakland nearby, and a freight railroad along the Bay. Similarly, SpaceX (Hawthorne, CA) has leveraged design and manufacturing resources originally set up by McDonnell Douglas and Hughes Aircraft in the Los Angeles area near the port of Long Beach.
The Upper Midwest
Considering the extraordinary value creation of companies such as Tesla and SpaceX, there is a significant investment thesis in enabling next-generation manufacturing organizations to arise in the Upper Midwest, where many similar current-generation manufacturing ecosystems already exist.
Given the democratization (i.e., global availability) of some of the new technologies, the presence of global companies such as Google, Amazon, and IBM in most of the major cities in the Upper Midwest, and the significant academic centers across the region; highly-trained resources are available throughout the region to enable advanced digital manufacturing centers of excellence.
The Upper Midwest also has strong attributes to attract and retain relevant labor pools. Table 2 shows the relative desirability of different regions in the US as destinations for STEM workers. The statistics for the Upper Midwest, broadly including the greater Cincinnati, Columbus, Chicago, Denver, Madison, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Pittsburgh areas, speak for themselves.

Rank (1=Best) Metro Area Total Score Prof Opptys STEM Friendliness Quality of Life
1 Seattle, WA 73.60 2 4 15
2 Boston, MA 71.94 7 1 43
3 Pittsburgh, PA 65.90 12 11 9
4 Austin, TX 65.15 6 8 27
5 Minneapolis/            St. Paul, MN 64.95 19 6 17
6 Madison, WI 64.00 13 16 13
7 Salt Lake City, UT 62.96 9 14 18
8 Springfield, MA 62.80 36 2 7
9 Chicago, IL 60.71 49 13 8
10 Atlanta, GA 60.69 5 27 31
11 Cincinnati, OH 60.51 16 33 14
12 San Francisco Bay Area, CA 60.50 3 7 67
13 Columbus, OH 59.71 33 21 21
14 Denver, CO 57.73 10 24 37
15 San Diego, CA 57.39 59 23 16
16 Sacramento, CA 57.20 44 20 25
17 Colorado Springs, CO 57.00 17 54 20
18 Worcester, MA 56.88 43 3 65
19 Richmond, VA 56.58 8 32 44
20 San Jose, CA 55.79 18 18 53

 Table 2: Desirability of cities in the US for STEM professionals. (Data Source: Richie Bernardo/ WalletHub, “2018’s Best & Worst Metro Areas for STEM Professionals”).
Superimposed with Table 1, Table 2 shows the opportunity for these regions to become magnets for next-generation manufacturing.
What Do the Next-Generation Manufacturing Innovations Look Like?
As a result, disruptive new companies are emerging in these regions, creating the investment opportunity to fund them from early-stage growth to scale-up. These companies are working with the incumbents shown in Table 1 to accelerate their evolution towards advanced digital manufacturing.
Examples of innovative companies focused on manufacturing and transportation in the upper Midwest include:
Proto Labs[i]– Rapid prototyping: allowing quick turnaround manufacturing.
FactoryFix[ii]– Contingent labor for equipment: predictive diagnosis for timely repair with skilled labor and relevant spare parts for better customer experience at lower cost.
Basin Commerce– River transportation: harnessing of shipping capacity on lake and river waterways using barge booking software.
Rambl[iii]- AI: sales call CRM logging and intelligence that analyzes calls for specific criteria and actions to surface insight.
Stemonix– Drug discovery: tissue manufacturing for testing potential side-effects of new drugs for neurological and cardiac diseases.
Aker– Crop management: Use of drones for crop management based on weather databases and image-based diseases detection. 
The Four Legs of the Innovation Stool
Infrastructure, technology, labor, and capital are the four legs of the innovation stool. The Upper Midwest has all of these.
Through new digital manufacturing technologies focused on topline and bottomline benefits, today’s manufacturing ecosystems are ripe for significant new value creation.
At Great North Labs, we are focused on providing early-stage capital to innovators in the Upper Midwest, with an emphasis on next-generation manufacturing. We leverage partners and advisors with market and operating experience in manufacturing. We invest in, and provide guidance and advisory resources to technology startups like FactoryFix that are poised to disrupt the traditional manufacturing and logistics industries in the Midwest.
[i] Donald Krantz, Director at Proto Labs, is an advisor to Great North Labs
[ii] FactoryFix is a Great North Labs portfolio company
[iii] Rambl’s co-founders, Mitch Coopet and Brian Bispala, are advisors to Great North Labs

The Industrial Internet is the future- and it’s being built now.

IoT and Analytics are transforming industry, and who know industry like the upper Midwest?

Add to the decades of institutional experience a community of educated tech adopters, then just add water (liquid capital) and stir. BAM!
Forget Silicon Valley, this is Silicon Lakes.

Read the Full Story

New Investment

TeamGenius is player evaluation software for managing tryouts, coach evaluations, camps, and more. Team Genius is focused on building stronger young adults and communities through their powerful, simple software tool. Streamline scoring with the mobile application, add transparency to the evaluation process, and ditch the paper evaluation forms, clipboards, and spreadsheets!

Browse our Portfolio

Minnebar 13

With no formal workshops, “BarCamps” are user-generated and participant-led by tech and business community leaders. Over 100 sessions were held this year at Minnebar13. Participants, speakers, and staff braved the ridiculous Minnesota blizzard to hunker down at Best Buy HQ for Minnestar’s premier tech conference.

MinneStar is currently running a 100 Day Challenge where the Board of Directors is matching donations by new community members. Join Rob and Ryan Weber and contribute to this important part of the Twin Cities tech community!

Great North Labs at Minnebar

Ryan Weber presented How Running Lean Can Help You Raise Capital, about how the stages of funding correlate to the phases of customer development. His Exponential Technology and Leadership talk delved into disruptive technology and innovation.

Rob Weber focused on How Entrepreneurs are Impacting Cities. Participants learned core concepts on entrepreneurial thinking and leveraging local industry expertise to create the next big thing.

Upcoming Events

EntreFEST May 17-18, Cedar Rapids, IA

State of Innovation: Ag-Tech May 22nd, Minneapolis, MN

Drone Focus Conference 2018 May 30, Fargo, ND

New Venture Challenge– May 30, Chicago, IL


Welcome New Advisors, to the Great North Labs Team!

Brad Lehrman – Attorney, Soffer Law Group, PLLC
Jeffrey Robbins – Attorney for Entrepreneurs and Angel and Venture Investors, Messerli & Kramer
Mitch Coopet – Co-founder of Aftercode
Paul Borochin – Assistant Professor of Finance at UConn School of Business
Art Rosenberg – President and Owner, Capital Commercial Realty Group, LLC
Shawn Teal – President, Forest Hill Capital

See our Team

IoT and Analytics – Organizing the Industrial Internet


Figure 1: The third revolution: IoT and Analytics.  [Image credit: General Electric]                               
The Evolution of IoT – Where we Came From
The first generation of IoT systems (IoT 1.0) was built mostly with data collected from IP-based sensors by monitoring applications. Whether standalone or embedded in phones, low-cost sensors, compact packaging and distributed power enabled new endpoints and systems. These monitoring applications served needs such as asset tracking, fitness monitoring, mood lighting, physical security, and others.
The second generation (IoT 2.0) leveraged the capabilities of infrastructure tools such as edge gateways, publish-subscribe buses, data warehouses, and API-based integration. The edge gateways allowed IP network segments to connect to sensor bus segments using a diverse set of protocols (e.g., RS-422, RS-485, BACnet, CAN, Fieldbus, Hart, LonWorks, Profibus, Seriplex, Zigbee, Z-wave, and others). The gateways extended the reach of these IoT systems across the many incumbent protocols and enabled the integration of the IP segments with legacy systems. The publish-subscribe buses made data-driven software architectures easier to implement and scale. The data warehouses enabled the integration of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data. The integration APIs enabled ingestion of data at scale. Together, these new building blocks enabled larger-scale IoT applications such as home monitoring, smart metering, power grid management, parking systems, next-generation environmental controls in buildings, windmill farms, warehouse management, etc., with varying degrees of commercial success based on the benefit provided vs. the insertion economics of each use case.
Today’s Frontier
With the larger data sets enabled by frameworks such as Hadoop and big data software such as Pivotal, the third generation of IoT systems (IoT 3.0) is integrating analytics for decision-making. These analytic platforms enable the processing and visualization of the IoT data sets. The large data sets and analytic tools identify aberrations with higher levels of confidence (statistical power) and detect ‘signals’ not seen before, they have lower detection thresholds, greater measurement sensitivity, and higher accuracy.
Applications based on these capabilities range from physical security for homes, buildings, and warehouses; to detection of diseases like lung disease, cancer metastases, or cardiac arrhythmias (see the Mayo Clinic and AliveCor’s recent work); and complex chemical analysis as in rare earth element detection. The availability of computing platforms at the ‘edge’ (e.g., gateways) enables distributed/local analysis.
“The Internet of Things is giving rise to a tsunami of data,” said Great North Labs advisor Ben Edwards (founding team member of home automation pioneer SmartThings). “The billions of residential sensors in people’s homes and the personal sensors on their bodies are sources of data of value to each of us, and depending on what we make available to others, to family members for our safety and well-being, to the retailers we buy from, to the health practitioners who take care of us.”
The proliferation of machine learning algorithms with new programming environments such as Python and dataflow libraries such as TensorFlow has opened up a wide range of new applications. These include anomaly-based security alerts, health and fitness monitoring, genomic analysis and biomarker detection for disease prediction, drones, and self-driving cars.
The addition of machine learning libraries to established platforms such as Matlab, R, SAS, and SPSS, is enabling insertion of machine learning into legacy applications.
The availability of these tools in public and private clouds has made their accessibility and deployment even easier.
Together, with supervised and unsupervised learning, the machine learning software is processing data sets with high data dimensionality, like those from mining, voice processing, drone navigation, and self-driving cars.
The integration platforms and IP-based communication are also enabling the integration of the IoT world with the enterprise world, making applications possible across hybrid computing and control environments such as airports, buildings, cargo ships, factories, hospitals, refineries and oil rigs. While this creates security issues for the enterprise as well as control systems, solutions such as micro-segmentation of hybrid systems are beginning to emerge.
Tomorrow – The New Startups
With products from companies such as Nvidia, Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and now Google, real-time computing power is becoming available at the edge. With easier integration and low cost, it is becoming embeddable at sensing endpoints for applications such as drones, self-driving cars and trucks, personal walking/talking robots, personal assistants, point-of-care diagnosis, no-POS retail, smart logistics, and smart city applications from parking lots to secure airports and intelligent highways.
Adoption Outlook
Beyond analytics and monitoring, this fourth generation of IoT systems will be able to use analytics and machine learning for controls.
What is the outlook for the adoption of these applications? The answer is: it depends. And it is best found through analogies.
How confident do today’s chess masters or masters of the game of Go today feel betting against the machine? IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.  And as Great North Labs advisor Mitch Coopet (CEO of AI-focused Aftercode) points out, “Since 2016, Google’s Alpha Go platform has won against several Go masters using improved deep learning techniques.”
Or, when will the day come when your x-ray machine will have better diagnostic accuracy than your radiologist? Ahem, that day is already here.
Or, when will Alexa be able to detect tonal infection to assess mood? Based on indications from Amazon and makers of social robots and AI assistants, sentiment analysis will progressively improve the way machines will interact with humans.
Or, when will we be comfortable with self-driven cars? Completely autonomous navigation in 5-7 years may be unlikely, but it is equally likely that in 20 years, self-navigation will become a required safety feature for new cars.
Given the range of answers above, it is not a matter of if, but when, that real-time control using machine learning will be common. These systems will be able to handle use cases as diverse as (i) detecting rare earth minerals to help navigate the earthmoving equipment towards richer ore in a mining operation, (ii) making real-time sweeps at airports to pinpoint explosives across large masses of people, luggage, and infrastructure, (iii) ensuring that the robots deployed in automotive assembly stay within the extremely tight tolerances of frame construction, and (iv) predicting the failure of a component in a high value CT scanner or remote ATM to dispatch the skilled repairman in a timely way to avoid downtime (a business that Great North Labs has invested in).

The Innovation Ecosystem of the Industrial Internet
“Business Insider projects that there will be 55 billion IoT devices operating in the world by 2025, impacting a broad set of industries including automotive, consumer products, electronics, medical devices, and industrial equipment,” notes Great North Labs advisor Robert Bodor (Vice-President and GM, Americas, at Protolabs).
At Great North Labs, with an ambitious vision, we aim to help build the innovation ecosystem of the Industrial Internet visualized by IoT 3.0. This is because we believe the ingredients to build it are uniquely within reach for us.
The three pillars of any tech-enabled disruption are entrepreneurs/developers, adopters/enablers, and capital.


Exponential Technology

Intel co-founder Gordon Moore famously predicted that computing power would grow exponentially by doubling every two years (“Moore’s Law”).  The implications of such rapidly improving computing power are now evident all around us, but back when Gordon predicted such growth it was hard to imagine a future with such incredible computing power.

In March, we held our first-ever Exponential Technology and Leadership workshop to address the inevitable trends that will disrupt many industries.

Whether it’s AI, IoT, medicine, space, or even blockchain, it was evident throughout this bootcamp that proactive, exponential thinking is necessary to maintain a competitive advantage in all industries.

Participants had the opportunity to hone in on their skills development through the process of question storming, developing moonshot ideas, and rapid prototyping.

If you were unable to attend, you can still sign up for our next workshop on April 23rd.

See Tickets for April 23rd Workshop


Welcome, new Advisors!

Candice Savino – VP of Engineering at Trunk Club; Formerly Senior Director of Engineering, Groupon

Nicolas Thomley – Henry Crown Fellow at The Aspen Institute, Co-Founder & CEO of Morning Sun Financial Services, Founder of Pinnacle Service

Suk Shah – CFO at Avant; Formerly CFO at HSBC

Paul Longhenry – SVP – Strategy, Corporate, and Business Development at Tapjoy; Formerly Venture Capital Investment Director at D.E. Shaw Ventures

See our Team


Top Midwestern Spots for Startups

It’s no secret that the startup ecosystem is rising in the Midwest. “…the amount of money being invested into startups is on the rise in the Midwest and throughout many other parts of the country, reaching fresh multi-year highs in 2017. Almost one full quarter into 2018, the trend appears to continue unabated.”

Read more from Crunchbase about why the Midwest is now being coined as a “goldilocks zone.”

Check out the Great North Labs Portfolio


Upcoming Classes

4/10 – Lean Startup Bootcamp

4/23 – Exponential Technology & Leadership Workshop –

4/28 – Agile Scrum Crash Course

See Startup School


Lean Startup Bootcamp 

Follow the Lean Startup Path to create your next startup, realize your potential in Product Management as a career, and master the skills needed to find winning business models through Lecture and Labs.
Our work-friendly bootcamp is over three Tuesday sessions: 4/10, 4/17, and 4/24 from 6:00 – 8:30 pm at Great North Labs in St. Cloud.

Exponential Technology & Innovation Workshop

The implications of rapidly improving computer power are evident around us – gain a competitive advantage and avoid disruption through this workshop. Become familiar through our Intro to Exponentials, review Disruptive Technologies, expand your Exponential Leadership, and develop skills to broaden your perspective.
Monday, April 23rd from 8:00 – 4:30 pm at Fueled Collective in Minneapolis.

Agile Scrum Crash Course

Learn and begin applying the foundational concepts of Agile Scrum to improve work transparency on your team. Review the history of Agile, problems that can be solved via Agile, and tackle software development complexity.
Saturday, April 28th from 9:00 – 5:00pm at Fueled Collective inMinneapolis.


Minnebar is April 14th

Great North Labs’s Managing Partners, Ryan and Rob Weber, will speak three times at this annual tech and software conference which has been a Twin Cities mainstay since 2006. The all-day event will be at Best Buy Headquarters. Tickets are free.

Tweet to Meet with Rob (@robertjweber) or with Ryan (@mnvikingsfan) at the event.

Check out more Events


Do you know any investors interested in sharing investment opportunities? Have them contact us!

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Carried Interest: Top Posts from 2018

engineer and various business information. Internet of things industry.
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Healthcare Innovation

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