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.
Author: Rob Weber
Most colleges and universities are finding it very challenging to cultivate strong startup communities like those found at leading institutions like Stanford and Yale. But if we take a deeper look at these leading institutions, and how others are responding to this challenge, we can build a repeatable model to support the the rise of the rest.
Certainly one component to developing a strong collegiate startup culture is having a strong curriculum, jam packed with not just theory but applied learning activities which enable students to develop skills required for jobs in today’s workforce. A good example of this occurred two years ago with the creation of a Software Engineering Degree at St. Cloud StateUniversity. Many engineering programs have become dated in our region but SCSU’s Science and Engineering leadership are meeting regularly with industry leaders to identify the practical needs of employers and then developing new degrees in support of satisfying them.
Many companies are looking for strong software engineers. SCSU has long offered an ABET-accredited Computer Science Degree that is strong on fundamentals like Database, Computer Architecture and Operating Systems. Started in 2015, they offer a Software Engineering Degree which adds required courses on the Software Development Process. In addition they are also offering electives in Mobile Development, and Gaming and Visualization (useful for 3D software such as VR/AR programming).
Additionally, four years ago, SCSU opened a brand new 100,000 square foot ISELF facility where students can work with industry leaders on projects utilizing cutting edge technology like VR/AR, Robotics, Nanotech, 3D printers, etc. The vast majority of students today in Computer Science programs would rather be learning coding skills to build useful enterprise or consumer software instead of spending their college years learning how to build infrastructure they are not interested in building.
The ISELF building is not just a place for engineering SCSU students to gather either. The new facility is being utilized by students across a variety of fields from business to liberal arts in support of experiential learning. Let’s face it, many software engineers don’t make the most aesthetically pleasing software! It may go well beyond SCSU’s campus too. Recently, we held a meeting between SCSU and CSBSJU’s Director for Entrepreneurship, Margrette Newhouse, and both groups of academic leaders expressed an interest in teaming up to get more student-led businesses from CSBSJU to work collaboratively with SCSU’s experiential learning offering.
It has become table stakes for a university to invest in equipping labs with cutting edge, disruptive technology to give students access to equipment that they otherwise won’t have access to. Some of America’s greatest startup stories involved young founders taking full advantage of their school’s resources. Take the story of Google and how their founders waited at loading docks at Stanford for new computers to come so they could increase their network and computing capacity. It isn’t 2000 anymore and students still need access to an even greater number of tools. Ideally, universities should invest in labs that provide access to breakthrough AR/VR technology, robotics, drones, etc.
One often overlooked and easily corrected way to supercharge your university’s startup community is to encourage it to focus its investing activity on regional venture funds that align with the university’s mission, as pointed in Tim Schigel of Refinery Ventures recent post. In Tim’s post, he shares insights as to how universities like Yale are generating outsized returns for their endowment than they would otherwise get in the stock market by investing in venture funds which align with their school’s regional impact mission.
Today, most universities investing in the venture capital asset class send all of their funds outside of their region. This far-away distribution of venture capital creates a vicious cycle where the universities in other regions end up dramatically outperforming them, which causes the original university to be less competitive. If there are no venture funds in your region, universities should consider adopting a policy to take small amounts of their capital and deploy it to first-time fund managers who align with a regional investing strategy.
Startup competitions like the Minnesota Cup organized by the University of Minnesota bring awareness to many startups that otherwise would fly under the radar. Beautiful things happens when you bring awareness to startups in your region. The entrepreneurial community will start to rally behind them, bringing with them valuable business contacts, advice, capital, and more to ensure their success.
And then there is that all so important issue of connecting top employment opportunities to the most talented graduating students. The best startup communities provide organized apprentice programs such as Xtern by TechPoint in Indianapolis. Apprentice programs are critical to the success of new graduates so they can learn applied skills required for these new high demand jobs.
Finally, the university needs to identify regional founders who can lead this charge and support them with a bottom up approach by spreading the word throughout various student groups across different disciplines. Top down approaches don’t work. Entrepreneurs are best led by entrepreneurs as Brad Feld describes in his book Startup Communities.