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.

John Stavig welcomes tech startup community events into the Carlson School of Management. Ryan Weber has lectured on crafting Moonshots, Lean methodology, market research, and raising capital.

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:

  1. Sezzle- 2016 High Tech Division winner
  2. Stemonix- 2016 Grand Prize Winner
  3. Kipsu- 2015 Finalist
  4. 75F- 2014 Grand Prize Winner
  5. WhenIWork- 2013 High Tech Division Winner
  6. 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).

Plyo rewards college students for exercising on campus with virtual points that can be redeemed for exclusive offers to popular restaurants, retailers, and brands. Plyo won the 2018 Student Division of the MN Cup.

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!

Dispatch is an on-demand delivery platform that enables businesses to track, manage, & share deliveries as they are ordered. Dispatch is based in Bloomington and employs 17 University of Minnesota alumni (according to LinkedIn data).

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.

Today it was announced that last quarter’s drop in GDP was the second largest ever recorded. Overall US economic output fell by 9.5%. This dire news comes on the heels of fantastic news for the MN tech startup community: the largest IPO from a Minnesota company ever, Jamf’s $468M IPO and $4.7B market cap. 

Minnesota’s Resilient Startups


In good times, founding a startup is hard. Being a successful operator is even harder. Add in the challenging times and limited resources of a recession, and you wind up with a pressure cooker that will test teams, products, and people to their limits. 

There is a history of successful companies weathering recessions, however. While some startups crumble under the pressure, others become diamonds. We compiled a list of Minnesota’s Resilient Startups to showcase some of our state’s startup successes that not only weathered tough times, but were formed during recessions

Leveraging Resilient Founders


It’s no coincidence that many of our operating partners appear on that list. We believe that successful founders and operators make the best early stage investors because they’ve had to scale an emerging technology company before. Leveraging that experience to identify, invest in, and support startups is what makes Great North Labs unique compared to most seed funds.

Tech.MN recently interviewed Managing Partner Rob Weber about his own experience as a founder of a NativeX, which was founded in the wake of the dot-com bust. Rob also talks about what led him and Ryan Weber to found Great North Labs.

Managing Partner Rob Weber shares the vision of Great North Labs and the impetus for its founding on the Tech.MN podcast.

“For us, I have gotten to know a lot of other founders in Minnesota and the surrounding region and many of them, either through their business model or whatever, required more early-stage capital than we did. And I heard about how terrible it was for them to raise money the last 10-20 years.

I just thought, ‘We can do this. We can invest in these companies and we can make money doing so.’

And that’s what compelled me to write checks. It was almost a feeling of obligation. We got a little bit of capital, and great mentorship, from these guys from Silicon Valley and I just thought, ‘We could do this here.’” – Rob Weber

Even with the challenges of a recession, we are positioned to continue contributing to a cycle of growth. We continue to build capacity in the innovation ecosystem by cultivating, capitalizing, and contributing to startup successes in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. 

Events

Here are some interesting events rounding out the summer lineup. 

Portfolio News


“CCRCs to participate in $3 million test of robots to curb resident loneliness, apathy”– Misty is encouraging social interaction in retirement homes in this study with Misty Robotics.

“The Lowdown on Discounts”– OSU campus publication featuring discounts from Plyo.

“PrintWithMe Announces National Partnership With Invesco Real Estate”– PrintWithMe agreement with 28th largest apartment owner in the US.

“Property risk increases as booking behaviour changes” – Problem trend, with success stories from NoiseAware.

Job Board

Dispatch is hiring a Business Development Representative, Driver Engagement Agent, Inbound Marketing Specialist, Cloud Engineer, Data Engineer, Manager-Software Engineering, Quality Assurance Engineer, Software Engineer, and Support Engineer in Bloomington, MN. 

FactoryFix is hiring a Team Lead – Full Stack Developer, Full Stack Developer, and Infrastructure Developer- DevOps in Madison, WI; a Recruiter, Sales Development Representative, and Account Executive in Chicago, IL.

PrintWithMe is hiring a Regional Sales Director on the East Coast; AR/AP Specialist, Inside Sales Executive in Chicago, IL; ; a Software Engineer, Account Manager, and Marketing Director for Remote work.

Parallax is hiring a Growth/Experienced Business Development Representative in Minneapolis, MN. 

Branch is hiring a Data Platform Manager, Senior Backend Engineer, and Solutions Engineer in Minneapolis, MN or Remote; and a Customer Success Manager in Minneapolis, MN.

Inhabitr is hiring a Chief Growth Officer/Head of B2C Growth, a Chief Growth Officer/Head of Growth, and a Sales and Customer Experience Associate in Chicago, IL.

NoiseAware is hiring a COO, VP of Global Sales & Account Management, Back-end Developer, QA Technician (independent contractor), Account Manager, and Customer Advocate in Dallas, TX.

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
Great North Ventures

Venture Capital Analyst

We're Hiring
Great North Ventures

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
Great North Ventures

Investment Theme: Solving Labor Problems

April Newsletter
Great North Ventures

Trends in the Gig Economy + Work in the Metaverse

Minnebar14
Josef Siebert

MinneBar 14 Recap

Minnesota Innovation Collaborative
Josef Siebert

Minnesota Innovation Collaborative

engineer and various business information. Internet of things industry.
Pradip Madan

IoT 3.0

Healthcare innovation image
Great North Ventures

Healthcare Innovation