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?
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.
Here is a mix of upcoming events for investors, founders, and/or ecosystem supporters. All events listed are virtual.
- Feb. 4th, gener8tor Premiere Night- Milwaukee and Beloit. Meet 7 new startups coming out of the venture studio.
- Feb. 9th, The Possibility Summit. Hosted by Fargo-based Emerging Prairie, this is a short conference-style event highlighting social entrepreneurship in our region.
- Feb. 28th, AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup. Supported by our friends at Innovation Works, this competition features startups with physical products in these verticals: AI/robotics, life sciences, cleantech, consumer products, smart home/connected devices, and smart cities/autonomous vehicles. Tune in to see the $50,000 grand prize awarded.Founders- apply by Feb. 21.
- Deadline TBD, gBeta Greater MN-St. Cloud Spring Cohort. Founders- the application is now open for the accelerator program, which will run from Mar. 4th through April 23rd.
- Feb. 24-26th, The Virtual MarTech Summit. “Our 7th edition will be a LIVE three-day summit that will focus on 3 MAIN VERTICALS: B2C, BFSI (Banking, Financial Services & Insurance), and B2B. 50+ industry-thought leaders and experts will reveal both pain points and best practices for recent advancements in AI, data analytics, machine learning, content marketing, digital privacy, and targeted marketing. Digital agility is no longer optional; it’s a defining competitive advantage.” Free to attend.
- Feb. 25th, BETA State of the State. The event is “a tight, informative download on Minnesota’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Brief updates will be shared by founders, community leaders, and regional thought leaders to provide a comprehensive overview of the area’s most exciting activities.”
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.
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 University of Minnesota is embracing startup culture across disciplines and producing results in the number of founders, tech talent, and startups. One of the top universities in the country with enrollment regularly over 50k, a system-wide endowment of nearly $4B, and over $1B spent annually on research and development, it’s incredibly important for the cultivation of early-stage tech startups in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. Because of this alignment, Great North Labs engages with the U of M in several ways.
How the U of M is Engaging
John Stavig is a leader in the tech startup community. The managing director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, Stavig teaches entrepreneurship courses and leads the Center. He helped launch one of the first student-run VC funds in the world, Atland Ventures, with David Russick.
Stavig has opened the doors to the Carlson School of Management for events and educational opportunities that benefit both students and startup community members. Great North Labs’s Ryan Weber has taught Lean Startup boot camps out of Carlson, at Stavig’s invitation, reaching ~50 students with our Startup School. Ryan has also guest lectured in the Applied Technology Entrepreneurship course on conducting market research and fundraising.
MN Cup is elevating the entire startup scene. MN Cup has become the largest statewide startup competition in the country. MN Cup takes no equity, is totally free, and distributes half a million dollars in seed funding to their startup participants. The exposure, funding, and recognition they receive is unparalleled in Minnesota. Some of the biggest startups to come out of the competition are:
- Sezzle- 2016 High Tech Division winner
- Stemonix- 2016 Grand Prize Winner
- Kipsu- 2015 Finalist
- 75F- 2014 Grand Prize Winner
- WhenIWork- 2013 High Tech Division Winner
- Foodsby- 2013 Semifinalist
Donors like the Carlson Family Foundation enable Director Jessica Berg to make MN Cup possible. The competition grows bigger every year through their support and efforts. Great North Labs’s Rob Weber judges every year in the High Tech division, and can attest to the increasing quality of startups. Great North has invested in two MN Cup alumni to date, Plyo (2018 Student Division Winner) and TeamGenius (2017 Semifinalist).
Atland Ventures provides students real VC experience. Atland is the first-of-its-kind, student-run venture fund, investing in companies that leverage disruptive tech. Originally founded in 2016 by four students, Atland has invested in a dozen companies, including two in the Great North Labs portfolio, Structural and Dispatch. Atland is an independent company, not a student organization, and students can actually see profits from their efforts if the fund succeeds. Their faculty support is from Stavig, David Russick, founder of Gopher Angels, and Raj Singh, Assistant Dean of Undergraduates at Carlson.
The limited partners include some of the most active local early-stage investors, including our partners Ryan and Rob Weber. Rob also serves as a mentor, and has recruited past Atland directors and managing partners to expand on their practical experience by interning at Great North Labs. The experience students gain at a working venture capital fund is a tremendous benefit in an industry that is notoriously hard to get in, and several have gone on to land jobs at startups and venture funds.
The U of M has a proliferation of startup support efforts across disciplines. Venture Builders, Grow North, MIN-Corps, WE at the Holmes Center; the Venture Center, MNBridge, and the Discovery Capital Program at University of Minnesota Technology Commercialization, are among the additional efforts to cultivate and support startups.
One example of the results of this multi-disciplinary collaboration is a startup we recently looked at called Grip Molecular Technologies. Grip is a cutting-edge startup using novel nanomaterials in an electronic biosensor to provide medical diagnostics. Not only are 2 different research scientists on the team from the U of M, but also a marketing executive.
Results by the Numbers
Since 2006, the U of M has launched over 165 startups. They have attracted over $1.15B in capital, and 7 have gone public since 2017. Investors can track U of M startups as they develop, through an online Startup Pipeline.
The U of M is ranked #18 for Global MBA programs in Entrepreneurship, with the largest statewide startup competition in the country, and 260 mentors providing guidance. Countless students have gone on to lead or work in startups.
In the Great North Labs portfolio, startups employ over 63 U of M alumni. That averages to nearly 2 U of M alumni for every startup we have invested in!
Why It Matters
The University of Minnesota is embracing startup culture across disciplines, and is contributing to the growth and development of talent, capital, and support necessary to early-stage startups in the region. This enables digital transformation and innovation across sectors. We are aligned with this approach, and work with the U of M to realize economic value creation in Greater MN, Minnesota, and across the Upper Midwest.
While people and companies capture headlines with big funding rounds, IPOs, and acquisitions, much of the work the U of M is doing is out of the spotlight. The truth is that the university is plugged in and making a difference in the startup ecosystem.
We’ve seen it firsthand, working with the administrators, the organizations, the faculty, and the students. And with leaders like Stavig, Berg, Russick, and the Carlson Family, the impact is only going to grow.
It’s a wrap for Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW), Minnesota’s largest annual startup event. How big is it? In 2019 the event attracted 17,000 people to over 200 sessions. This year, the event stretched nearly a month as it went virtual for the first time.
Startup Competition Winners
One of two big competitions during TCSW is the MN Startup Awards, a joint venture between Tech.MN and TCSW. The winners this year included Canomiks (Emerging Startup), Maddy Kennedy (Impact Award), BetterYou (Operational Excellence) SayKid (Voyager Award), Black Tech Talent (The Inclusive Evolution Award), and Target Accelerators Team (Corporate Champion).
Great North Labs sponsored the 10K Lakes Award for Greater Minnesota for the second year in a row, which recognizes work supporting startups in Greater MN. MN Cup took home the award this year!
We are proud to support MN Cup through our Founders Pledge, where Rob Weber also judges the High Tech division, and are pleased with the recognition of their success. MN Cup wound up their own competition on Sept. 23rd, with top honors going to BlueCube Bio.
The other big competition of TCSW is the BETA Showcase, which routinely attracts 800+ attendees. This year featured 21 startups, including 7 startups from Greater MN. The winner of the coveted Golden iPod was Bibliate, a Minneapolis-based provider of academic research summaries.
gBETA Greater MN-St. Cloud
The accelerator program gBETA Greater MN-St. Cloud has announced its fall class. The class includes startups from around the state. Sproutary is from Kimball, Shrpa is from Rochester, LegalMaps is from Edina, and Live.Give.Save is from Red Wing.
$2M Pitch Competition for Black founders
Revolution’s Rise of the Rest (ROTR) is partnering with Opportunity Hub, 100 Black Angels & Allies, and Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab to fund Black-founders via the “Rise of the Rest Virtual Tour: Equity Edition”. $2M in investments will go to the top 3 companies.
Please share this event with your network! It’s a great opportunity for Black founders in the Upper Midwest to connect with investors and resources, and to have a chance at a big check! Great North Labs has partnered with ROTR to help connect capital with Black founders, and Rob Weber be taking pitch meetings during the event.
Great North Labs + Vikings Football = $$ for Minnestar
For every point the Vikings score this season, we are matching up to $5 in donations to Minnestar! Give as little as 10 cents per point, and know that it will be matched, benefitting one of Minnesota’s top startup support organizations.
The campaign started on September 1st (when the Vikes were 0-0) and continues until the day after the Super Bowl, because hey, you have to believe! This campaign is through local startup ScoreSide, which connects sports with philanthropy.
It’s important to support the organizations that support our startups. Times are challenging. While we believe there’s a shortage of early-stage capital in the region, we also think that right now is a great time to build a startup.
Here is a mix of upcoming events, for investors, founders, and/or ecosystem supporters. All events are virtual unless otherwise noted.
- Oct. 1st, Flyover Tech Fest. Based in Iowa, this is a Midwest-centric event for tech startups seeking support, development, and funding.
- Oct. 8th, 2020 TedX St. Cloud. This year is focused on personal transformation.
- Oct. 20th + 22nd Innovation Expo Rapid City, SD, and Sioux Falls, ND. These are hybrid events, with in-person and virtual options.
- Oct. 23rd, LaunchMN Friday Forums: Angel Tax Credit Program. All about the tax credit for MN angel investors.
- Nov. 3-4th, 2020 Enterprise Rising. Casey Allen’s annual event for enterprise SAAS startups.
- Nov. 9-11th, Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium. Speakers, panels, and networking plus opportunities to connect investors and founders.
River’s Edge participates in new robotic technology pilot program for screening COVID-19. Misty the robot is being used to screen hospital employees for COVID-19.
PrintWithMe Announces National Partnership With Trammell Crow Residential. PrintWithMe has inked a deal with one of the nation’s largest developers of multifamily apartments.
Dispatch is hiring a Business Development Representative and Manager, Account Management in Bloomington, MN; a Ruby Developer and Senior Ruby Developer for Remote work. Also Territory Sales Managers in Arlington, VA, Baltimore, MD, and Washington D.C.
FactoryFix is hiring a Team Lead – Full Stack Developer, Full Stack Developer, and Infrastructure Developer- DevOps in Madison, WI; and a Sales Development Representative in Chicago, IL, Indianapolis, IN, or Madison, WI.
PrintWithMe ishiring Regional Sales Directors on the East Coast and in Texas; AR/AP Specialist and Operations Lead in Chicago, IL; VS/SVP of Operations, Marketing Director, Part-Time Customer Service Representative, Inside Sales Executive and a Fall 2020 Strategy Intern (MBA) for Remote work.
Parallax is hiring an Experienced Product Designer in Edina, MN.
Branch is hiring a Data Platform Manager, Senior Software Engineer, Customer Success Manager, Customer Support Rep, Enterprise Support Specialist, and Fraud Agent in Minneapolis, MN.
Inhabitr is hiring a Chief Growth Officer/Head of B2C Growth, and a Sales and Customer Experience Associate in Chicago, IL.
NoiseAware is hiring a VP of Global Sales & Customer Experience, Embedded Developer, QA Technician (independent contractor), Account Manager, and a Customer Advocate in Dallas, TX.
With unemployment soaring, small businesses shuttering, and even some large chains withholding rent, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are reverberating through our communities. Many people wait on relief from the government in the form of stimulus payments and unemployment benefits. Businesses scramble to secure emergency loans, payroll support, and new ways to gain revenue. Oftentimes lost among other dire news is the plight of nonprofits and charities, who languish as donations dry up and revenue-producing events are put on hold.
Cash and Equity Giving
Jack Dorsey’s $1 billion equity pledge is an eye-catching reminder of how important it is to support these causes and organizations now if you are able to. Many are dependent on revenue from events that can’t happen and donations from disposable income that has evaporated. Our Founders Pledge is built on the idea of baking giving into your venture as part of your short-term and long-term financial plans, to support your community, and to support the organizations that support you with a mix of cash and equity giving.
One nonprofit that can use your support at this time is the CentraCare Foundation. From now until May 30th, your donation to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund will be doubled, due in part to a gift from our partners Ryan and Rob Weber.
Time and Effort Giving
During this time many businesses and leaders have risen to the challenge to support their communities through non-cash/non-equity donations. Our portfolio companies are also active in the fight, supporting local businesses, hospitals, and healthcare workers on the frontline. Here are four examples of their work.
1. Dispatch launched same day delivery for local businesses. This service aims to help alleviate supply chain difficulties during the pandemic
2. 2ndKitchen launched a new service to offer delivery for bars and breweries. This is a lifeline for these businesses when they have to be closed, with 2go allowing bars and breweries to sell beer, food, and merchandise for pickup or delivery- for free.
Clinician Nexus partnered with MN COVIDsitters to provide the technology platform that connects volunteer medical students with healthcare workers to provide free childcare during the pandemic.
4. PrintWithMe is holding a Face Mask Drive. The face masks, unused N95 masks as well as simple surgical masks, are being supplied to Chicago-area hospitals.
Giving for a Better Future
In consideration of the pandemic, the Webers have expanded the list of colleges they support to include North Hennepin Community College (NHCC), one of the largest Minnesota State colleges serving a very diverse student body with many low-income students. Ryan and Rob are alumni of NHCC, where they gained the skills that helped them bootstrap their own startup.
The Webers have donated $10,000 to NHCC’s Foundation to directly aid Graphic Design students studying product design, a program they see as well-positioned to fill the large UI/UX design talent gap in Minnesota and the surrounding region. Their support of this program goes beyond money to include volunteering as mentors, promoting awareness of NHCC’s Graphic Design program, and using their networks to help students connect with internships and employment opportunities.
We continue to support and evolve our own educational initiative aimed at filling the gap of disciplined startup education in the region, formerly known as the Great North Labs Startup School. The programming is now known by a variety of names, and collectively as the Lean Startup School. The new iterations have come about by partnering with Red Wing Ignite and ILT Studios. These partners have allowed us to develop the programming as a white-label offering to communities around the state, with a particular emphasis on Greater Minnesota. There are two cohorts currently, in St. Cloud and Red Wing, with more planned for the future.
We will get through this crisis, one way or another. Whether or not the federal government gets behind legislation that supports startups with an influx of capital, such as the New Business Preservation Act, there is a broad community of entrepreneurial support and a healthy, growing startup ecosystem in the region. We will continue to cultivate transformative innovations, successful entrepreneurs, and tech startups in the Upper Midwest!
Valuable startup ecosystem organizations we support include MN Cup, Beta.MN, Minnestar, SCSU University Foundation, College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, gBETA Greater MN-St. Cloud, SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Silicon North Stars. If you also find them valuable and you are able, please consider giving to them during this time of need!