Doubling Down on Success Investing in Trailblazers
Minneapolis – May 23, 2022 – Early-stage VC firm Great North Ventures announced today it has closed $40 million for its second venture fund (“Fund II”). The fund aims to continue the firm’s success investing in startups from Seed to Series A stages. New investments will address three key themes: digital transformation through AI, community-driven applications, and solving labor problems.
Founded and operated by successful founders, Great North Ventures focuses on providing capital, connections, and operational guidance to startups. Its new Fund II has added a Venture Studio, whereby new startups are co-created and supported from ideation through launch and beyond. The fund’s investing and support are network-driven, with connection density in Minnesota, through the Upper Midwest, and extending beyond.
Founders seeking funding can apply for immediate consideration.
“We have refined our approach as a network-driven investor with Fund II. Our Innovator Network has depth and breadth across startups and Fortune 500 companies. Our team’s network is diverse and rooted in our own experience as founders. It is densest in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, and extends beyond. Our deal flow and support and consequently, our capital deployment, align with this density, By playing to our network’s strengths in this way, we maximize investment potential, while also creating a blueprint for further Fund growth in locations that are undercapitalized.”- Ryan Weber, Founder & Managing Partner
“Great North Ventures has a strong track record. Our investors have given us a vote of confidence by coming out strong for Fund II, with a 70% increase in fund size, and we are grateful for their continued support as well as the support of new investors. Our strategy as a thematic, network-driven investor focusing on opportunities in underserved markets is resonating and we see this successful Fund II raise as proof of this theme and our ability to execute.”- Rob Weber, Founder & Managing Partner
Fund II Strategy and Themes
Great North invests in domains with substantial unsolved problems that can be solved by entrepreneurs leveraging technology. The firm’s Innovator Network is a network of former founders, skilled operators, and successful investors that have a track record of execution. It is a key resource for helping with sourcing opportunities, diligence, strategy insights, referrals for team additions, and mentorship for the core team.
One of the key strategies of Great North Fund II is its Venture Studio, in which it designs and builds companies with world-class founders in focused market segments with substantial opportunities. In the venture studio model, problems that startups could solve are identified, markets are evaluated, teams are built, MVPs (minimum viable products) are spun up, and experiments are run to iterate products until product/market fit is achieved.
Startups co-created in the Great North’s Venture Studio continue to receive fundraising support and board oversight after they launch. NextGem is a tool and social network for trading card enthusiasts to better manage and discover great cards. It is the first company created in Great North’s Venture Studio. The second startup to come out of the studio is Backhouse Brands, a self-serve marketplace for creating and managing virtual restaurant brands.
Three investment themes drive Great North Ventures Fund II:
• Digital Transformation Through AI – Great North is looking for technology-driven startups that are innovating traditional industries using artificial intelligence. Its portfolio examples across Fund I and II include Allergy Amulet, Coverlease, DispatchFlywheel, Inhabitr, and Nested Knowledge.
• Community-Driven Applications – Great North is looking for consumer or enterprise startups that are connecting people through software, especially in the areas of media consumption or commerce. Its portfolio examples include NextGem, Omnia Fishing, and PartySlate.
• Solving Labor Problems – Great North is looking for startups with market-driven solutions for workplaces and labor. Its portfolio examples include FactoryFix, Skillit, and Yardstik
Founders who fit one or more of these themes and are raising a Series Seed through Series A round may apply for funding on this web page.
Fund I History
The firm was originally known as Great North Labs when it was founded in 2017. Its first fund of approximately $24 million was one of the largest debut venture funds raised in the Midwest and now includes a portfolio of 27 investments, six of which have exited. New investments from Fund I are now complete, with the remaining capital reserved for follow-on investments.
Strong growth has continued across Great North’s Fund I portfolio. Aggregate revenue run rate of these companies increased 294% from the time of initial investment through the end of 2021. Recently, several of Great North Fund I portfolio companies have announced new growth rounds including Dispatch, Branch, and FactoryFix.
Great North Ventures’ co-founders, Robert and Ryan Weber, are twin brothers with a successful track record since the early 2000s as founders and angel investors. They were joined in founding the firm by a former mentor, Pradip Madan, who is a successful technology executive and investor. Rounding out the team are Venture Partner Mike Schulte, and Director of Marketing Josef Siebert.
About Great North Ventures
Great North Ventures is an early-stage VC firm located in Minneapolis. The firm has raised two funds since its 2017 founding. As a network-driven, early-stage investor, the firm has deep roots and density in the “capital desert” outside Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston.
Built by founders, for founders, the team is experienced in founding and scaling tech companies. Its team consists of ex-operators with significant experience across stages of growth from startup to public companies and M&A, and broad and deep technical, sales, marketing, and transactional expertise. Great North prioritizes execution over strategy and pedigree when choosing companies and founders to back. Fund II will invest in startups that fit three themes: Digital Transformation through AI, Community-Driven Applications, and Solving Labor Problems.
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.
Welcome back to the Great North Labs newsletter! 2020 kicked off to a fast start. We were invited to participate in the World Economic Forum, and we announced the next chapter in our Startup School. There’s also a new advisor on the team, and a new portfolio company.
World Economic Forum
Managing Partner Pradip Madan went to Davos for the annual gathering, which focuses on entrepreneurship in the global public interest, and shaping global, regional, and industry agendas. On and off stage, Pradip spoke about investing in the Upper Midwest, supporting and growing the ecosystem, and of course, the promise of the Upper Midwest region.
Pradip spoke on the Global Citizen panel hosted by Minneapolis AI company PinkLion.AI titled Innovation in Tech: Leveraging unexplored areas and geographies to increase scale and innovation in the public and private sector, and hosted an hour-long roundtable for The Digital Economist on Business models and strategies that will hallmark the next phase of global economic transformation.
Great North Labs was also proud to sponsor the International Women Business Leaders Reception and the Digital Future Board Room. Inclusion and digital transformation are both important topics that we are glad to support and help elevate on the world stage.
There was a strong regional contingent involved with and leading these events, including Jennifer Bonine of PinkLion.AI, Patricia Simmons of Mayo, and Maria Dayton, Ambassador of SingularityU Minneapolis-St.Paul. Maria and Jennifer were instrumental in organizing these events, and are strong representatives for Minnesota and the region.
One of the ecosystem building efforts that Pradip highlighted at WEF was our Startup School, which is currently undergoing a reboot. We have new partners, expanded curricula, and greater reach!
Startup School Reboot
Started in 2017, the original Great North Labs Startup School offered bootcamps covering Lean Startup and Agile Scrum, and additional offerings over the years included education on digital disruption and exponential technologies. Roughly 200 students went through the school.
Now, we are working on an expanded offering with new partners Red Wing Ignite and ILT Studios. While the new initiative will no longer be wholly owned and operated by Great North Labs, it will be greatly expanded, able to reach more of Greater Minnesota, and hopefully scale across the entire state. You can read more about it on our blog, or in this article by Minne Inno.
Classes will begin in March, and sign-up will be live in February. Contact us to get on the mailing list and stay informed, and to find out when you can sign up.
Here are some upcoming events related to tech startups. Where our attendance is noted, feel free to reach out or connect at the event:
- Feb. 12- Kellogg Private Equity and Venture Capital Conference 2020 in Evanston, IL. This is a Chicago-area gathering of PE/VC leaders. Panel topics include “The Value of Fostering a Diverse & Inclusive Firm”, “The Future of Private Equity Firm Models”, and “The Mighty Middle versus The Coasts: Beyond Traditional Venture Ecosystems”. Ryan Weber will attend.
- Feb. 20- MinneDemo: Back to Campus in Minneapolis, MN. This showcase highlights students and recent grads.
- Feb. 20- Igniting Our Regional Entrepreneurs in Red Wing, MN. You’ll learn more about how the rural innovation ecosystem is getting energized. Ryan Weber will attend.
- Feb. 26- BETA’s State of the State in St. Paul, MN. Update on the state of MN tech startups.
- Feb. 27- Tech Talent 2020 inMinneapolis. This event at Target Field is put on by MHTA. “During this event, we will build on the data and ideas we delivered last year to look at specific ways the tech and STEM education communities are addressing supply and demand here in Minnesota”.
- Mar. 16- Wisconsin Tech Summit in Green Bay, WI. The Tech Summit will feature a series of brief meetings, or “speed dates,” to foster communication and partnerships.
- Apr. 25- Minnebar15 in Richfield, MN. The annual, can’t-miss gathering at Best Buy HQ put on by Minnestar. Tickets won’t be available until April 9th, but you can check out the talks and register your interest here. If you plan on going, this is good to do, to make sure you can get a seat in the talks you want to hear. (Minnestar uses those registrations to assign room sizes). Check out Managing Partner Rob Weber‘s talk Scaling a Company Outside of Silicon Valley.
Steve Schmidt is new to the Great North Labs team. He is the Founder and CEO of Abetech, a company that creates bar code and RFID systems and solutions that increase productivity.
NoiseAware is new to the Great North Labs portfolio. NoiseAware provides a real-time noise monitoring solution for the rapidly growing short-term rental industry. According to property managers, the biggest challenge they face is party prevention. This is likewise a major concern for major rental platforms such as AirBnB. NoiseAware’s solution includes options for indoor an outdoor monitoring, in real-time, with historical data and trend tracking across properties.
FactoryFix is hiring two Full Stack Developers and a UX Designer in Madison, and a Business Development Specialist and Account Manager in Chicago.
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 an Account Executive, Business Development Representative, Operations Associate, Operations Intern, and Design Operations Intern in Chicago.
PrintWithMe is hiring a Customer Success Associate, Customer Service Representative, Web Developer (Python), Inside Sales Executive, and an Operations Lead in Chicago; Super User Technicians in Portland and Houston; and a Regional Sales Director for the 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 Revenue Operations Manager, Sales Development Manager, UX Designer, Senior IOS Engineer, Customer Support Agent, Account Executive (Enterprise), IT Coordinator, Data Engineer, Devops Engineer, Jr. Visual Designer, Senior Backend Engineer, Senior Android Engineer, and Account Executive (Mid-Market) in Minneapolis.
NoiseAware is hiring a Back-end Developer, Embedded Developer, Front-end Developer, Mobile Developer, Site Reliability Engineer, Global Supply Chain Manager, Product Marketing Manager, and UI/UX Designer in Dallas.
Twin Cities Startup Week is over! It was a busy week for many of us in the tech and innovation community, with around 300 events to attend and thousands of people to meet.
This year, Great North Labs was proud to bring Greater Minnesota into the BETA Showcase for the first time ever. Thanks to Reed Robinson and Adam Lingerfelt at Beta for working with us to include 10 non-metro startups at this year’s event! We are still waiting on final tallies from TCSW, but we know that over 900 tickets were sold for the Showcase event. The value for these outstate entrepreneurs of that kind of exposure is fantastic, and we are glad to have done our part in providing it through our partnership with BETA.
Prior to the Showcase, Great North Labs hosted an invite-only event for the entrepreneurs and other attendees working from or with Greater Minnesota. The Greater MN Meetup brought together Greater Minnesota ecosystem stakeholders to join the conversation on improving the startup ecosystem. We had over 100 attendees involved in actively supporting the Greater MN innovation ecosystem! Thanks to Moss & Barnett and EPIQ Partners for co-hosting and making this event possible.
“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… 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
Events and initiatives like the 2019 BETA Showcase, gBeta Greater MN St. Cloud, and Launch MN are excellent catalysts for entrepreneurs. By supporting them we will continue to drive innovation and foster economic value creation in Minnesota and across the Upper Midwest.
In line with this mission on a national level is Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, who just announced a $150M second fund. They are focused on investing in startups from communities not located in traditional startup hotbeds. We are partners with Rise in Dispatch and Structural, and are supporters of what they do locally. Great North Labs’s Rob Weber will be speaking at their upcoming annual summit in D.C. on Scaling a Company and Growing a Team Outside of Silicon Valley. Congratulations to Steve Case, Anna Mason, Mary Grove and the rest of the Rise team!
Nov. 5th, UMD Entrepreneurship Conference in Duluth, MN. This student-run conference will bring together entrepreneurs, educators, and innovators.
Nov. 6-7th, Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in Madison, WI. This is an Investor/Entrepreneur conference with 500+ attendees.
Nov. 12th, Launch MN Roundtable Discussion: Central Minnesota in St. Cloud, MN. Great North Labs is hosting Launch MN! This session will educate innovation ecosystem stakeholders on the initiative, and serve as a forum for feedback about how to best support Central MN.
Nov. 12-14th, Fulcrum: The Conference on Solutions for the Future of Work inDetroit, MI. “The Fulcrum Conference will bring together a broad range of stakeholders to design win-win solutions that will benefit workers, employers, our communities, and our economy.” 50% off code for SingularityU community members: SUCOMM50.
Nov. 14th, Cultivate in Fargo, ND. Put on by Emerging Prairie, this conference is all about emerging tech in agriculture. Entrepreneurs in the AgTech space actively looking for investment and ready to pitch, apply here. Connect with Ryan Weber (@mnvikingsfan) at the event.
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.
Nov. 18th, Moonshot Monday in Minneapolis. SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul’s happy hour event will feature Finnegan’s finest, networking, and the think-outside-the-box Global Grand Challenges game.
Nov. 19-20th, 2019 UNMET Conference inDenver, CO. “50 of the fastest-growing tech companies located throughout the middle of the US will be pitching to raise Series A/B Capital”. Connect with Rob Weber (@robertjweber) at the event.
Amit Patel is new to the Great North Labs Advisory Team! Amit is the Co-Founder and CEO of Vios Medical. Amit’s experience includes Global Partnership Strategy at Heartflow, Inc., and Corporate Development at Medtronic.
Brian Tockman is new to the Great North Labs Advisory Team! Brian advises consumer growth and omni-channel retail companies. He is a former Venture Investor at General Mills, Merchant at Target, and eCommerce Startup Leader.
Misty Roboticshas released Misty II! Check out their latest robot/developer platform here.
Dispatch won the Operational Excellence Award at the 2019 Twin Cities Startup Week Awards. Congrats to the Dispatch team!
More information about our portfolio companies can be found here.
Dispatch is hiring all over the country for Drivers and for Biz Dev, QA Engineer, Front-End Engineer, Accounts Payable, and a CFO in Bloomington, MN
Structural is hiring for a Sales & Marketing Operations Specialist, and Account Exec in St. Paul, MN.
FactoryFix is 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 Lead Qualification and Inside Sales Specialist in Boulder, CO.
2ndKitchen is hiring a Digital Marketing Manager, Customer Success Manager, Account Exec, Customer Support Manager, and Director of Sales, all in Chicago.
PrintWithMe is hiring a Customer Success Associate, Network Operations Specialist, and Operations Lead in Chicago, and a Regional Sales Director for the West Coast.
Twin Cities Startup Week kicks off tonight, and goes until October 16th! This is the biggest startup (event? happening?) anything in Minnesota every year, and TCSW 2019 is bigger than ever, with over 300 events. So what does a venture fund like Great North Labs have to do with it? Are we just wandering around writing checks?
Oh, no. Oh ho ho ho ho NO.
1. BETA Showcase
When Reed Robinson at BETA approached us about including Greater MN in Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW), we had some ideas.
This year, we helped BETA source and vet startups from around the state for the BETA Showcase, which regularly sells out (and which attracted 800 attendees last year!). For the first time ever, this premier event of TCSW will include 10 startups from Greater MN, in addition to the 14 from the BETA cohort. Who will take home the Golden iPod this year?!
While many demo events are industry or metro-specific, this will truly be a celebration of the state’s entire ecosystem. Come to eat, drink, and talk one-on-one with some of the hottest new founders in the state!
2. Greater MN Meetup
2019 is the first year focused on including Greater MN, so Great North Labs decided to help organize the Greater MN Meetup, with sponsors EPIQ Partners and Moss & Barnett.
This invite-only (request and invite at the link if you haven’t received one) pre-event gathering before the BETA Showcase will be a place for policy folks, business leaders, economic development pros, entrepreneurs, and investors interested in supporting the innovation and startup ecosystem statewide. It will also give all of the Showcase newcomers a place to gather with likeminded people before the craziness of the BETA Showcase.
Join us to connect with Greater MN stakeholders, and have a drink and snacks before the BETA Showcase!
3. Exponential Medicine
Ryan Weber is not only a Managing Partner at Great North Labs, but he is also the Co-Ambassador at SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul (SU-MSP), where he keeps up on digital transformation and exponential technologies.
The mission of SU-MSP includes educating people in the community around these topics. Exponential Medicine is part of the featured Health track, and we have gathered 3 cutting-edge local companies to speak about what they do, where they see the tech going, and the impact that will have in the future.
Come to learn about advanced tech in local medical companies StemoniX, Recombinetics, and Miromatrix Medical.
4. Exponential Medicine Moonshot Workshop
Another part of the mission of SU-MSP is to promote local moonshots using exponential tech to take on the world’s most pressing problems! This Moonshot Workshop will work on generating some of these big, transformative ideas with a health focus.
Ryan Weber will co-facilitate this workshop with fellow SU-MSP leadership team member Nick Tietz, Founder and CEO of ILT Studios.
Want to think outside of the box while brainstorming BIG ideas to make the world a better place? Join us for this session to not only learn how to generate these ideas, but to generate some yourself!
5. TCSW Awards Ceremony
The Closing Party of Twin Cities Startup Week is going to be a blowout at the Science Museum. This will be the last hurrah of TCSW 2019!
Sign up separately to attend the TCSW Awards Ceremony from 6-7 pm. There are a variety of awards given out, and this year we are proud to be sponsoring the 10K Award. The award is for recognizing an organization, team, or individual fueling Minnesota’s startup ecosystem outside the greater MSP Area.
Vote for the 10K Award recipient here, and attend the event for the last goodbye to TCSW until 2020!
6. Partnerships Matter: Why Go it Alone if you Don’t Have to?
Managing Partner Rob Weber will be speaking at EPIQ Partners alongside Neela Mollgaard, Director of Launch MN, and Matt Meents, former CEO of Magnet 360.
“Success rarely happens as a solo effort. Every entrepreneur must find and nurture partnerships along the way. From co-founders developing trust in early stages to finding the right advisors to track towards an exit, partnerships matter. Come and absorb from an informed group of experienced partners.” – from the event description that was so right-on it had to be directly quoted
Come to hear about the value of partnerships, and valuable partnerships.
7. Kind of all over the place
Great North Labs contributes to many organizations that are important to the local startup ecosystem including MN Cup (Final Awards ceremony on Oct. 14th!), Minnestar (Minnedemo 33 is Oct. 10th!), BETA (operational support for all of TCSW), and SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul.
A healthy ecosystem produces more startups, and we hope to grow it locally, while continuing to invest in early-stage startups throughout all of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. We are glad to see Twin Cities Startup Week growing in attendees, events, and sponsors, and by including startups from Greater MN!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Their presentation covered a wide breadth of topics including Location, Amenities, Value, Design + Culture, Well-Being + Safety, and Function + Aesthetics. Key takeaways include:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul to explore and foster the use of Exponential Technologies for Good with local Fargo-area businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs
Fargo, North Dakota – November 9, 2018 – SingularityU Minneapolis-St.Paul will present an introduction to the exponential technologies that are rapidly shaping the future of humanity. These technologies are poised for quick growth and adoption, and have the potential to disrupt our lives in the next 20 years as much as the internet and mobile phones have in the past 20.
While business and technology leaders may wish to familiarize themselves solely to remain competitive and plan for the future, it is the mission of the SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter to connect, energize, and enable leaders in the region to create solutions to global problems using these transformational technologies.
“As our regional leadership teams build local communities in support of the development of exponential technologies, the ability for meaningful global and local impact grows,” said Dharmishta Rood, Senior Director of Community Leadership at Singularity University.
Intro to Exponential Technology & Leadership will take place from 3-4 p.m. at Prairie Den, 122 1/2 N Broadway Dr., in Fargo. Tickets are required and registration is available free. Greg Tehven, Fargo local and Emerging Prairie founder, is co-hosting the event. Ryan Weber, SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter co-ambassador, will present.
In addition to being co-ambassador of the SingularityU Chapter, Ryan Weber is a managing partner of St. Cloud-based Great North Labs, an early-stage venture fund and startup school. Weber often speaks on Lean Startup, exponential tech, and Midwest venture capital, and has presented at some of the largest games conferences around the world on mobile ad-tech as Chief Product Officer at NativeX, the company he co-founded with his twin brother, Rob Weber.
Singularity University (SU) is a global community with a mission to educate, inspire, and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges. SingularityU Chapters are created in partnership with local program participants and SU alumni, and are located in some of the most innovative and upcoming global technology centers in the world. To date, there are 126 SingularityU Chapters in 63 countries.
ABOUT SINGULARITY UNIVERSITY
Singularity University (SU) is a global learning and innovation community using exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges and build a better future for all. SU’s collaborative platform empowers individuals and organizations across the globe to learn, connect, and innovate breakthrough solutions using accelerating technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and digital biology. A certified benefit corporation headquartered at NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley, SU was founded in 2008 by renowned innovators Ray Kurzweil and Peter H. Diamandis with program funding from leading organizations including Google, Deloitte, and UNICEF. To learn more, visit SU.org, read the SU Blog, join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @SingularityU, and download the SU App.
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
- Visit Singularity’s website to sign up to the global community here
- Request to join the SingularityU Minneapolis-St.Paul Chapter here
- You will be notified by email of our next chapter meeting! Until then, you can get up to speed on Singularity University at SU.org, the SU Blog, or on the SU App. Follow the SingularityU Minneapolis-St.Paul Chapter on Facebook.
Great North Labs Startup Ecosystem Kickoff
“It doesn’t take a lot of capital with early-stage tech companies to make a big impact.” – Ryan Weber
The Great North Labs Startup Ecosystem Kickoff brought together successful entrepreneurs and innovators to learn about the current state of the tech and investment ecosystem and network with like-minded professionals. 25 speakers, 6 portfolio startups, and over 250 attendees came together for the afternoon! The topics of education, community, fostering connections, economic impact, and the ripe opportunity for venture capital in the upper Midwest dominated conversations, as some of the area’s most innovative thinkers gathered, spoke, and networked.
Here’s what people have to say about the event:
“a fantastic event with great speakers” (@jmjhjr)
“pretty amazing turnout here at #SCSU“ (@graemethickins)
“Much appreciation to @mnvikingsfan and @robertjweber of @greatnorthlabs for spending their time supporting the startup ecosystem of MN. Great event today @stcloudstate #GNLKickoff – Thank You!!!!” (@jongoldsberry)
Continue the conversation on Twitter with the #GNLKickoff hashtag. If you missed the event, or want to see it all over again, watch it on YouTube!
Thanks to everyone for coming, and stay tuned for future events!
Oct. 9th, “Minimal Lovable Product Panel” (part of TCSW). 3-5 pm, at the Baker Center, Minneapolis. FieldNation is hosting, and Ryan Weber is a panelist.
Oct. 10th, “Project North Fall Quarterly Roundtable“. 12-4 pm, at the Lumber Exchange Event Center, Minneapolis. Rob Weber will speak on the “State of the Twin Cities Innovation and Startup Community”.
Oct. 11th, Great North Labs Pre-TedX Happy Hour (part of TCSW), St. Cloud. From 5-6 pm, we’ll gather at Great North Labs’s headquarters for a happy hour, ecosystem talk and networking before TedX St.Cloud 2018: Cultivating, which will be held only a few blocks away at the Paramount in St. Cloud. This event recently sold out, so we added a few more tickets. Purchase them through Twin Cities Startup Week!
Oct. 24-25, 2018 FUND Conference, Chicago. “FUND Conference is the nation’s connector of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, and industry experts with a focus on curated deal flow, captivating content and same day connections.” Pradip Madan is speaking.
Oct. 30, TalentMN Leadership Summit, Impact Hub, Minneapolis. Sponsored by Structural!
CEOs from our portfolio companies presented at the Startup Ecosystem Kickoff, giving overviews, updates, and asks of the Great North Labs community. Visit the Startup Ecosystem Kickoff playlist on the Great North Labs YouTube channel to see presentations from Dispatch, Structural, TeamGenius, FactoryFix, ZAPinfo, and Pitchly.
Great North Labs welcomed three new advisors in September:
Jason Heath is the CFO at Drip + LeadPages, and was formerly the VP of Business Intelligence & Analytics at GoDaddy.
Mike Bollinger is the Founder of Livefront and the Co-founder of TECHdotMN.
Graeme Thickins is the President and Founder of GT&A Strategic Marketing Inc. and is a MinneAnalytics board member. He also has a long career as a tech writer and analyst, and runs GraemeThickinsontech.com.
Welcome to the team!
Dispatch is hiring Drivers in Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Orlando, and Minneapolis.
Structural is hiring an Account Executive, Office Administrator , and a Senior Engineer (ReactJS).
Team Genius is hiring a Lead Full-Stack Engineer
Pitchly is hiring a UI/UX designer and Core engineer- watch for postings on the Pitchly website.
FactoryFix is hiring a Visual/UI Designer, Vue.js Developer, VP Talent, and a Business Development Rep.
This invite-only event has some impressive speakers lined up, and should be excellent for networking with local execs. Great North Labs is an organizer of the event, and Ryan Weber will be speaking. Request an invite here.
From the press release:
Digerati.org is a national platform connecting digital leaders with networking and education opportunities. The Digital Transformation Summit event is focused on digital transformation, emerging technology, and networking for Chief Executive Officers, Chief Digital Officers, and other CXOs. In a world where software is increasingly transforming the core of every industry, hard-fought lessons from the digital practitioners delivering radical transformation are indispensable to senior management at all organizations.
The event is curated and invite-only, and includes panels by some of the leading companies in Minneapolis. It will be held on July 25th in downtown Minneapolis. Invitations inquiries can be made on the event page.
Ryan Weber is co-founder of Great North Labs, a local early-stage venture fund that invests in upper Midwest technology startups. He previously co-founded NativeX, a Minnesota based ad technology and media company that he ran for many years. Weber is helping organize the digital summit, which he says will feature an amazing lineup of local digital transformation leaders who are building forward-looking, digitally-driven enterprises.
Among the list of leaders speaking at the event are Mark Ritchie and Gene Munster. Ritchie is a politician and entrepreneur who served as Minnesota’s 21st Secretary of State. Munster is a former analyst for Piper Jaffray, and currently heads Loup Ventures.
Bharath Lingam, CEO of [x]cube LABS, a leading digital transformation company and host of the event, said that digital transformation today is a highly visible and yet very misunderstood topic. The best way for enterprises to engage with the subject is to have “birds of the same feather” communities, where digital practitioners can meet with each other, share lessons from the trenches on how they’re solving their challenges and learn from each other. The Digital Transformation Summit is designed to accomplish exactly that.
The Digital Transformation Summit is designed to provide a great opportunity for digital leaders to network with their peers and learn from the best practitioners of the trade.
The event will also host access to a digital innovation experience area, where the guest will get to experience some of the emerging tech like deep learning, blockchain, virtual reality and sensors, hands on.
Brendan Cooper, Head of Digital at Panini and a past Digerati event speaker, has said: “The Digerati community is the best and fastest way to meet and learn from people practicing digital transformation. Success on the frontier of business change requires extraordinary insight from people that live on that frontier. This is where you get it.”
Digerati.org is a public initiative focused on evangelizing digital innovation in the Enterprise space. The organization is involved in publishing research and news on digital themes, celebrating intrapreneurship around digital and holding workshops and conferences. Digerati.org is also focused on creating user groups of Digital Leaders and Influencers that can meet up regularly to discuss and organize new initiatives.
Thanks for being a friend of Great North Labs. We are excited to share an update with you regarding our new Venture Fund and affiliated Startup School. Thank you for your interest!
October marks just our 5th month of existence. Our top priority the past two months has been raising capital for our fund. We’ve also been taking meetings with startups but investing is on hold until the completion of our initial close.
Additionally, we’ve been working on further developing our business strategy and plan for the fund & startup school. This includes developing an organizational plan for all of Great North Labs. Expect to see a revamped web-site later in October with more details about our strategy and plan.
Startup School Events – Lean Startups Bootcamp Date: Every Monday from 6pm – 8:30pm from 10/23 to 11/20
Instructor: Ryan Weber (Founding Partner of Great North Labs)
Location: Great North Labs office in St. Cloud (near the SCSU Welcome Center)
Description: Learn, and begin applying, the lean startup practice so that you can eliminate waste in planning and growing your startup. It’s open to students and small business professionals of any type, profit or non-profit, high-tech or no-tech, for free or mid-to-large business professionals for a low cost. Find more information and apply to participate at our website . The same bootcamp will be offered in early 2018 in the Twin Cities.
Disruptive Tech Series – Blockchain Trends
Great North Labs believes disruptive technology is an important ingredient to drive substantial value in industry. Due to this, we will make a concerted effort to build our understanding of these technologies and identify opportunities to invest in startups embracing them. You may have heard of Bitcoin, and possibly the underlying technology it is built on, “Blockchain.” We’re hosting a Blockchain Meetup where we’ll be discussing what Bitcoin and the Blockchain is, how it’s starting to impact several markets, and future trends of this new technology. Look for details of this event on our Events section of our website, coming late October.
Job Openings – We’re Hiring!
Digital Marketing Specialist Intern (St. Cloud) – Help us help our region’s top startups by joining our small team and assist in supporting our digital and event marketing needs.
New To Our Blog:
The Secret To Fostering A Strong Startup Community Inside Your University – by Rob Weber
– Joined Coco Minneapolis in the Grain Exchange for our Twin
Cities office location.
– Contracted a marketing agency in the Twin Cities to help
support our initiatives.
– Conducted meetings with several St. Cloud and Twin Cities
based universities (SCSU, CSJSB, UofMN) to see how we can better collaborate in supporting startups. The feedback has been very positive. Initially, they are helping to promote our Lean Product Bootcamp but other events are and collaboration are being discussed and we’ll post further updates once they are finalized.
– We’ve learned after running two Lean Product Bootcamps that hosting a pitch day after only five weeks for a Lean Workshop is impractical. Teams need more time to complete their business model vetting. Instead, we are planning to host a larger pitch event some time in March for anyone that is interested.
● Promote our Lean Product Bootcamp in St. Cloud (starts
October 23rd) or Twin Cities (early next year) to anyone you know that may be leading a new business and is interested in how learning how to reduce waste in planning and executing on their idea. More information available on our website.
● Looking for a contractor in the Twin Cities or St. Cloud that has experience in WordPress that may be available part-time on an ongoing basis in support of our further development of the Web-Site.
● Help us fill the Digital Marketing Specialist Intern opening we have in St. Cloud for Great North Labs.
● Beginning on November 3rd, vote online for Ryan Weber’s session on Running Lean so that he can secure a spot at this year’s Twin Cities Product Camp event to be held at the Nerdery on Saturday, November 18th.
● Follow @GreatNorthLabs on Twitter as there is a lot of activity in the startup community that we’ll begin sharing and promoting.
Rob, Ryan, & James – The Great North Labs & Great North Capital Team
P.S. If you know others who would be interested in what we are up to, please refer them to our Newsletter to sign-up to receive updates, become mentors, founders, etc.