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

Red Wing Ignite Startup School

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

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

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

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

World Economic Forum

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

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

See Pradip here in this clip from CNN Money.


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

Portfolio News

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

Job Board

FactoryFix is hiring a Product Designer- Customer Growth, two Full Stack Developers, and a Infrastructure Developer- DevOps in Madison; a Recruiter, and a Business Development Representative in Chicago.
TeamGenius is hiring a Customer Success Associate. 
Pitchly is hiring a remote Legal Marketing & Sales Content Specialist
Misty Robotics is hiring a Lead Qualification & Inside Sales Specialist, and an Inside Sales Specialist (contract) in Boulder, CO. 
2ndKitchen is hiring a Customer Success Manager – Events & Popups, Production and Inventory Associate, Operations Associate, Business Development Representative, and an Account Executive in Chicago. 
PrintWithMe is hiring a Customer Service Representative, Web Developer (Python), and an Inside Sales Executive in Chicago; Super User Technicians in Portland and Houston; and Regional Sales Directors for the Southeast and West Coast.
Parallax is hiring a Customer Success Specialist, Quality Assurance Engineer, Senior Software Engineer, and for a Growth/Customer Acquisition role in Minneapolis. 
Branch is hiring a Sales Operations Manager, Sales Development Manager, Field Marketing Manager, Software Engineer, Customer Support Agent, Account Executive – Enterprise, Sales Engineer, IT Coordinator, Lifecycle Marketing Manager, DevOps Engineer, Jr. Visual Designer, Sr. Backend Engineer, Demand Generation Content Manager, Account Executive – Mid-Market,Growth Marketing Inter, and Growth Marketing Analyst in Minneapolis; a remote Sr. Android Engineer; and an Operational Data Scientist in Minneapolis or remote. 
NoiseAware is hiring a Global Supply Chain Manager, Product Marketing Manager, and UI/UX Designer in Dallas.
PartySlate is hiring a Marketing Coordinator, HR Manager, Account Executive, Product Marketing Manager, Senior Product Desinger (UX), Senior Software Engineer (Front End), all in Chicago.

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.

Minnebar is almost upon us and this year is going to be great. The annual event will take over Best Buy’s headquarters for the fourteenth time, on April 27th. As always, it features local tech and startup community members, and an agenda of user-generated content that is vetted and voted on by said community. Both Ryan and Rob Weber are presenting and you can view their sessions (and vote for them!) here. 

Ryan and Nick Tietz will be presenting an interactive talk called Developing A Moonshot Idea – Broadening Perspective & Thinking Creatively:

“This session is an interactive session designed to help you learn new skills to strengthen your adaptiveness! The two techniques you’ll learn in this session are Question Storming and Future Wheels along with an intro to how these could be paired with exponential tech to come up with a Moonshot!” 

Tietz has partnered with us recently on educational workshop content around innovation, and both Weber and Tietz are leaders of SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter.

Pictured: Great North Labs recently partnered with Nick Tietz of The Sota Enterprises to put on an Innovation Workshop. Find out more info about our Innovation Workshops here.

Moonshots are a key part of Singularity University’s approach to solving huge global problems using rapidly growing (exponential) technologies. Ryan’s other talk will elaborate the mission of SingularityU, and talk about exponential technologies and their future disruptive impact.

Don’t miss SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter Intro to Exponential Technology & Leadership:

“Humans evolved based on a linear way of thinking and so it’s difficult for most to imagine the impact that will come along with each of these technologies. There are currently about 20 exponential technologies have the potential to disrupt our lives as much as the internet and mobile did over the next 20 years. While disruption is certain, the future is up to us, to define how these exponential technologies impact the world.” 

This talk was one of the most popular talks last year, so sign up early! If you’re interested in exponential technologies and using them to solve pressing global problems, check out the local chapter here. 

Rob Weber will be holding a one-man pitch session with his VC Reverse Pitch- Learn a VC’s investment criteria talk:

“Sick of pitching? Let’s turn the tables so you can stop sweating it out over your pitch deck. I’ll tell you what we look for, so you can decide whether your startup should get our investment.”

It’s a great opportunity for founders who want to know what VC’s look for, without the pressure of a meeting. 

Tickets go on sale April 11th at 2pm and sell out quickly!


April 2nd, Sioux Falls, SD. Hustlers + Hockey, Sioux Falls Stampede vs. Lincoln Stars. Join Great North Labs for a special game-long happy hour as the Sioux Falls Stampede take on the Lincoln Stars. It’s your basic venture- and startup-centric happy hour, but from a club-level bar/lounge at center ice. Thanks to our advisor Brian Schoenborn for the opportunity and his work organizing! 

April 3rd, Sioux Falls, SD. Great North Labs is holding a Lean Startup Lunch and Learn at the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship. Ryan Weber gives a practical overview of Lean, distilled from the material from the Great North Labs two-day Lean Startup Bootcamp. Join us at the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship in Sioux Falls, for lunch, networking, and a chance to learn about creating, running, and growing efficient startups. Thanks to Andy Jorgenson and Thad Giedd for setting this up!

April 27th, Richfield, MN. Minnebar14. Held every year since 2006, Minnebar is a rite of passage for Twin Cities startups. “Minnebar is a user-generated conference that is participant-led. There are no keynote speakers or formal workshops, and all sessions are led by people from the tech and business communities. This event is free and open to anyone with a passion for technology!”

April 11th, Minneapolis, MN. OnRamp Insurance Conference. The OnRamp events were started by gener8tor to give startups access to corporate execs and late-stage investors. They have evolved into a series of vertical-specific events, including this one focused on Insurance. “The conference highlights innovations disrupting the insurance industry, the leaders making such innovations possible and how new technologies and business models will reinvent the industry.” 

April 13-17th, Minneapolis, MN. 33rd International Conference on Business Incubation.  “The agenda will feature more than 30 educational sessions, multiple powerful keynote speakers, and several unique opportunities to meet, connect, and collaborate with peers from around the globe. ICBI will also provide unprecedented access to important resources and exciting networking opportunities with executives from some of America’s largest corporations, all of whom are looking to connect with innovative entrepreneurs and the organizations that support them.” Mary Grove, the local partner in Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, is speaking. 

Advisor News

Two Great North Labs advisors are new to the website!

Shawntera Hardy  is the former Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (MN DEED). She is currently the Co-Founder/Head of Strategy of Civic Eagle, a SaaS platform that leverages artificial intelligence to help enterprises and non-profits identify, track, and analyze legislation and regulations. Shawntera is also Co-Founder of Fearless Commerce, a publication and platform focused on elevating Black Women business owners.

Casey Allen is the founder of Enterprise Rising and Health Rising, and the former co-founder and partner in the Skyway Fund. Enterprise Rising is an annual conference and community for Midwest enterprise startups. It will be downtown Minneapolis July 17-18 this year. 

Job Board

Dispatchis hiring all over the country for Field Sales Representatives and Drivers and locally for Software Engineers and Biz Dev. 
Structural is hiring a Customer Implementation Specialist Intern
TeamGenius is hiring a Sales Associate in Minneapolis. 
FactoryFixis hiring a Software Engineer in Madison, and a Business Development Specialist and an Account Managers in Chicago.
Misty Robotics is hiring a Developer Writer and Head of Hardware in Boulder. 
2ndKitchen is hiring a City Lead and Full-Stack Developer in Brooklyn. 

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