Welcome to the May edition of the Great North Labs newsletter. In this time of economic change, entrepreneurial skills, advancing technology, and its new applications will drive the innovations and evolving business models necessary to spurn economic growth and prosperity on the other side of the downturn.
Great North Labs recognizes the importance of seeding investable startup opportunities, and endeavors to be a VC leader in the cultivation of robust early-stage startups in the region. That said, there are opportunities for learning necessary skills for startup entrepreneurs coming up soon, for high school students, college students, and entrepreneurs of all ages.
Today is the deadline to sign up for Jumpstart’s 3-day startup intensive for students! Jumpstart is structured like a hackathon, but with the focus including product and business instead of solely on coding and building. The program starts on Friday and goes through the weekend. Sign up by midnight with your own team, or as an individual. Each team will include technical and non-technical roles.
Jumpstart is virtual, free, and includes a day of workshops, speakers, and Q&A to learn from various startup ecosystem leaders. If you know any students in high school or freshmen in college interested in a startup, check it out. We are proud sponsors of this inaugural event by Futurist Academy, and are excited to see this kind of programming becoming more prevalent and widely available in Minnesota and the Midwest.
For entrepreneurs beyond high school, the Startup School is back! This collaboration with ILT Studios, Great North Labs, E1 Ecosystem Builders, and MN DEED has gone virtual. Startup Course 01 | Customer Driven Innovation – Module 101: Opportunity Identification is June 6th! This first of three modules is aimed to take entrepreneurs from idea to investable product. The module is available in two separate 2 1/2 hour time slots, is open to anyone, and, like the entire program, is free.
“Most good ideas do not come fully formed. Even the best ideas need to be iterated, explored, and refined before they have a chance at becoming great business ideas. What most people don’t tell you is that there is a process that can be taught and practiced to sharpen an idea–taking it from good, to better, and then to great.“
Support Startup Education
Silicon North Stars is a program founded by Mary and Steve Grove that takes high-potential ninth-graders from economically underserved communities in Minnesota, and exposes them to startup training, local tech mentors, and the culture of innovation born in Silicon Valley.
Usually the program takes the students out west to visit tech companies, but this past year was the first time the program was run entirely in Minnesota! With the evolving Minnesota startup ecosystem there was no shortage of resources, people, and companies for the students to engage with.
If you’re interested in joining us in support this program and its alumni, Silicon North Stars is currently raising $10,000 via GoFundMe for their inaugural alumni scholarship program.
The summer event season is getting rolling, with many large conferences moving to a digital format.
- June 4th is the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference. This virtual conference will include sessions focused on providing small businesses guidance on COVID-19, and will also highlight the Wisconsin Business Plan Competition winners.
- June 4-5th is Entrefest 2020. Based in Cedar Rapids, IA, this year’s conference is virtual. “EntreFEST is a two-day conference, celebrating the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation where professionals at every level come together, share ideas, and own their success.” Great North Labs’s Mike Schulte will be speaking.
- June 23-25th is Collision. Described by Politico as “The Olympics of Tech”, this massive annual tech conference is going virtual this year. With SXSW canceled this year, this may be the top tech event of 2020 after CES. Great North Labs’s Pradip Madan and Rob Weber will be attending and available through the event app.
- June 24-25th is Fund xChange in Chicago, IL. “FUND xChange is assembling the entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and experts, in the banking and finance industry to explore the innovations in value exchange. Meet the community improving how we bank, pay, and invest.”
Branch won a Webby! First awarded in 1996, the Webby Awards are, according to the New York Times, the “Internet’s highest honor”. This year the competition garnered over 13,000 entries. Branch was 1 of 2 winners in the “Banking/Financial Services Apps” category. Congratulations to the Branch team for this international recognition!
Dispatch is hiring a Director of Sales, Product Manager, Product Owner, Quality Assurance Engineer, Senior Software Engineer, Content Creator, Business Development Rep., and Software Engineering Manager in Bloomington, MN. Territory Sales Manager positions are open for 16 states!
FactoryFix is hiring a Team Lead – Full Stack Developer, Full Stack Developer, and Infrastructure Developer- DevOps in Madison, WI; a Recruiter, and Business Development Rep in Chicago, IL.
TeamGenius is hiring a Customer Success Associate in Minneapolis, MN.
PrintWithMe is hiring a Regional Sales Director on the East Coast; a Software Engineer, Summer Strategy Intern (MBA), and Summer Strategy Intern (undergraduate) for Remote work.
Parallax is hiring a Customer Success Specialist, and Growth/Customer Acquisition in Minneapolis, MN.
Branch is hiring a Channel Manager in Minneapolis, MN.
NoiseAware is hiring a COO, VP of Global Sales & Account Management, Product Marketing Manager, UI/UX Designer, Account Manager, and Customer Advocate in Dallas, TX.
With unemployment soaring, small businesses shuttering, and even some large chains withholding rent, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are reverberating through our communities. Many people wait on relief from the government in the form of stimulus payments and unemployment benefits. Businesses scramble to secure emergency loans, payroll support, and new ways to gain revenue. Oftentimes lost among other dire news is the plight of nonprofits and charities, who languish as donations dry up and revenue-producing events are put on hold.
Cash and Equity Giving
Jack Dorsey’s $1 billion equity pledge is an eye-catching reminder of how important it is to support these causes and organizations now if you are able to. Many are dependent on revenue from events that can’t happen and donations from disposable income that has evaporated. Our Founders Pledge is built on the idea of baking giving into your venture as part of your short-term and long-term financial plans, to support your community, and to support the organizations that support you with a mix of cash and equity giving.
One nonprofit that can use your support at this time is the CentraCare Foundation. From now until May 30th, your donation to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund will be doubled, due in part to a gift from our partners Ryan and Rob Weber.
Time and Effort Giving
During this time many businesses and leaders have risen to the challenge to support their communities through non-cash/non-equity donations. Our portfolio companies are also active in the fight, supporting local businesses, hospitals, and healthcare workers on the frontline. Here are four examples of their work.
1. Dispatch launched same day delivery for local businesses. This service aims to help alleviate supply chain difficulties during the pandemic
2. 2ndKitchen launched a new service to offer delivery for bars and breweries. This is a lifeline for these businesses when they have to be closed, with 2go allowing bars and breweries to sell beer, food, and merchandise for pickup or delivery- for free.
Clinician Nexus partnered with MN COVIDsitters to provide the technology platform that connects volunteer medical students with healthcare workers to provide free childcare during the pandemic.
4. PrintWithMe is holding a Face Mask Drive. The face masks, unused N95 masks as well as simple surgical masks, are being supplied to Chicago-area hospitals.
Giving for a Better Future
In consideration of the pandemic, the Webers have expanded the list of colleges they support to include North Hennepin Community College (NHCC), one of the largest Minnesota State colleges serving a very diverse student body with many low-income students. Ryan and Rob are alumni of NHCC, where they gained the skills that helped them bootstrap their own startup.
The Webers have donated $10,000 to NHCC’s Foundation to directly aid Graphic Design students studying product design, a program they see as well-positioned to fill the large UI/UX design talent gap in Minnesota and the surrounding region. Their support of this program goes beyond money to include volunteering as mentors, promoting awareness of NHCC’s Graphic Design program, and using their networks to help students connect with internships and employment opportunities.
We continue to support and evolve our own educational initiative aimed at filling the gap of disciplined startup education in the region, formerly known as the Great North Labs Startup School. The programming is now known by a variety of names, and collectively as the Lean Startup School. The new iterations have come about by partnering with Red Wing Ignite and ILT Studios. These partners have allowed us to develop the programming as a white-label offering to communities around the state, with a particular emphasis on Greater Minnesota. There are two cohorts currently, in St. Cloud and Red Wing, with more planned for the future.
We will get through this crisis, one way or another. Whether or not the federal government gets behind legislation that supports startups with an influx of capital, such as the New Business Preservation Act, there is a broad community of entrepreneurial support and a healthy, growing startup ecosystem in the region. We will continue to cultivate transformative innovations, successful entrepreneurs, and tech startups in the Upper Midwest!
Valuable startup ecosystem organizations we support include MN Cup, Beta.MN, Minnestar, SCSU University Foundation, College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, gBETA Greater MN-St. Cloud, SingularityU Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Silicon North Stars. If you also find them valuable and you are able, please consider giving to them during this time of need!
July is over! This is the moment where summer fun planning always turns a little earnest, when we try to store up every last bit of Vitamin D and fish protein we can to last the upcoming season-which-shall-not-be-named. There’s still fun to be had, and we took some time out of the sun recently to attend some great local events.
Great North Labs partner Rob Weber spoke at Enterprise Rising with Mary Grove, partner in Revolution’s Rise of the Rest seed fund. Enterprise Rising is an annual event for Midwest enterprise tech startups that was created by Great North Labs advisor Casey Allen. Rob and Mary’s talk was a VC-to-VC chat about what they look for in investments, including specifics like important tools for metrics and defining product/market fit, and about their respective funds. They also talked about the region in general. As Rob said, “We’re punching above our weight, but just not telling that story well.”
Forge North is not only dedicated to connecting and supporting the local innovation ecosystem, but also to telling the story about our region better than it has been told before. Forge North’s event, Horizon, was a debut for the coalition dedicated to supporting Minnesota innovators and entrepreneurs. An initiative of Greater MSP, its mission is: “We accelerate growth by inclusively connecting and proudly celebrating the individuals and organizations growing Minnesota ventures, and we equip these partners with tools to measure progress and dream bigger together.” They operate a dashboard that visualizes some key metrics for the regional innovation economy, which is useful for data-driven stories as well as being valuable information. You can see a video explaining the initiative here.
Supporting the next generation
We also ran into Mary Grove at Silicon North Stars Demo Day at Fueled Collective on July 23rd. She and her husband, MN DEED Commissioner Steve Grove, run the non-profit Silicon North Stars which operates a tech camp for 9th graders. Their mission is to inspire and educate young Minnesotans to become future leaders in technology. The camp ends with a demo day every year, and the solutions the teenagers come up with are always surprisingly well-thought. The impact on the kids is palpable, as they invariably talk about the confidence, knowledge, and inspiration they gain from the experience. Great North Labs is a proud sponsor of this organization.
It’s hard to spend too much time indoors in August, but there are some events worth stepping inside for.
- August 1st, Rochester, MN. Today is theInvestor and Innovator Forum:”The Forum was launched by Destination Medical Center and Mayo Clinic as a venue to foster conversation and collaboration between emerging and experienced entrepreneurs and the investors who support their growth.” The forum features panel discussions and speed networking, and sponsors include gener8tor, Medical Alley, and Minne Analytics.
- August 19-21, San Francisco, CA. Singularity University Global Summit 2019: “Our premier annual gathering bringing together 2,000 changemakers for incredible talks on AI, AR/VR, blockchain, the future of work, impact, investing, robotics and more. The one event you don’t want to miss!” Singularity University’s flagship event gathers futurists, technologists, C-suite and social impact drivers from 64 countries around the world for sessions, workshops, and talks on changing the world for the better with cutting-edge technology.
- August 22-29, Madison, WI. The Forward Festival: “Join fellow entrepreneurs, nerds, geeks, hackers, foodies, and creatives from the Midwest in an 8-day celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship.” This event is billed as Wisconsin’s largest tech and entrepreneurship festival, and features 40+ events over 8 days, with over 2000 attendees.
Plyo is new to the Great North Labs portfolio. Plyo is a rewards app that encourages students to use their campus recreation center in exchange for points that can be redeemed for offers from a variety of merchants. It provides motivation for students to lead a healthy lifestyle, while allowing businesses to engage with the active college student customer segment in a positive way.
Dispatchis hiring all over the country for Field Sales Representatives and Drivers. In Bloomington, MN, they are hiring a variety of positions including an Executive Assistant, an Accounts Receivable Specialist, Support Engineer, Sr. UX Designer, Biz Dev Rep, and a CFO!
Structural is hiring a Customer Success Specialist.
FactoryFixis hiring a Software Engineer in Madison, and sales roles in Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis.
Misty Robotics is hiring a CFO, Devops Engineer, Principal Electrical Engineer, and a Sr. Software Engineer in Boulder.
pepr ishiring for Biz Dev – Outbound Sales in Minneapolis.
PrintWithMe is hiring a Customer Success Manager, Biz Dev Executive, and interns for Strategy and Marketing/Operations.