In this compilation episode, Josef features the best advice for founders that we picked up at our 2021 Annual Event.
Every year, Great North gathers investors, founders, and ecosystem builders together for networking and progress updates.
In this episode, you can hear advice from our stakeholders- people who have proven they can execute- on hiring and firing, leadership, go to market, and more.
Welcome to the execution is King podcast where we talk to successful startup founders, investors and ecosystem builders to uncover insights and best practices for the next generation of great global startups. This month, we have a special episode, instead of a single guest. We have advice from a ton of people. Every year, we gather all of the Great North ventures stakeholders together to network an update on the funds progress. This year, we asked attendees, founders, investors and builders, questions centered on quality execution. What’s the best advice you have for founders out there? When it comes to team building, specifically hiring and firing?
hiring and firing? I’ve heard this a number of different ways. There’s the old cliches of hire slow fire quick. And then some people follow that up with hire Quick Fire quick. I like what what my co founder Chris had brought to us where you say, let’s be really careful about who we bring on the team. And use the I think he called it the shopping mall test. And that test is like, if you hired this person, like, and on a Saturday, you saw them at a at a shopping mall unexpectedly, would you want to go up and say hi to him? It seems like a simple test. But there’s, you know, some people you might want to avoid and other people you just be like, I gotta go say hi, I can’t believe I see him at the mall. on a Saturday. So yeah, so that’s, we’ve used that approach, we have really good luck, we’ve had really good luck with Team retention. Our team is really everything to us, you know, people stay with us. You know, so we were really happy with with what we’ve built so far.
That was Todd Larson, co founder of Team genius.
You know, there’s kind of the latest and greatest theme out there that is hire slowly and fire quickly. I’m kind of borrowing that. But you know, in my career, I think being upfront with people and really focusing on making sure that as a leader, we’re all about doing servant leadership and removing roadblocks for people, and making them be the best that they can be. And really celebrating that I think is super important. That’s the way that I try to manage my teams, I try to surround myself with smart people that can bring things to the table that I necessarily don’t see right away. But I think as a team, you collaborate and you always come up with the best ideas and the best approaches. And the sum of all parts is better than just one individual.
That was James Don Francesco, president and co founder of Next Gen.
So I’ve always had a fail fast mentality, where founders typically will always just bring anyone they can get their hands on into their company, some unemployed person, their uncle, a friend. And that’s okay, in the very, very, very beginning. But as you start getting traction, if people aren’t performing well, or aren’t doing their own basic jobs, you have to cut bait, you have to get out of it. You have to make sure you’re working with people in your startup that are moving the ball every day. And if you’re in your gut, you know that somebody’s not making it I’ve seen founders be really, they’re committed to people that were there in the beginning, because those people were there in the beginning. And so they think being committed to people who were committed is a great rule. It’s a horrible rule. And it kills the opportunity for everybody. And so especially as you start getting eight and 10 people into your business, everybody knows who the nonperforming person is. But as the CEO or founder if you don’t deal with that, you start losing a lot of credibility and hindering everybody else’s opportunity.
That was Doug Berg, former founder of zap info,
growth mindset. It’s really the the number one thing that I look for when hiring people I try to look for, have you started a business a side business? Have you created something on your own? Have you demonstrated some interest in learning and getting better and being humble about what you know or don’t know? And I find that that trumps you know, experience all day as if you’ve just you’ve shown that grit to, you know, grow and persevere.
That was Chris Knutson, CEO and co founder of Team genius.
Like just general advice that I learned from doing a startup is, is really not I think, really focus on what your company’s the best at and, and not try to invent the wheel on every element. I think leverage the the knowledge of the community and your advisors, your your investors is really key.
That was Brian Biss Bala, former co founder of Ramboll and code 42.
Well, I think you got to look at hiring and firing as finding the right spot for people. And when you’re letting someone go, it’s probably because they need to go someplace else versus the emotion of the difficulty, like people have an opportunity to do great things. Sometimes they get stuck in a certain spot where they just don’t want to move to the next level or the next opportunity. So sometimes you’re kind of like letting them find their next chapter, that might be their best chapter. Certainly listening, being empathetic. It’s not easy, though, to let people go, certainly in the hiring side, business is all about people. And so you cannot take the people side of things for granted at all, you have to be very deliberate, very careful with hiring, it’s very easy to hire, very difficult to fire. So being very careful, making sure that you’re just not cutting corners on people. At the end of the day, we’re all in the people business. And so you want to make sure you have the best possible people. And so being very careful in how you onboard people, and also make sure they’re part of the culture of your organizations huge.
That was Brian Shawn born attorney at Moss and Barnett, I think
the core of it is always hire people smarter than yourself, and empower them to use their expertise, and understand what’s blocking them or what they knew needed to do their job. And then stay out of their way. And that is really hard to do. You care, you started the business. So you have some expertise, right. So you have to be kind of humble with where your expertise ends, and there’s begins or certainly eclipses yours. But you know, you’re hiring these people, because they’re really good at something that you’re not good at. Otherwise, you’re hiring wrong. You’re hiring people like you, you’re just way off base, I think the best place to start there is you have to figure out your mission, your vision and your values. And that allows you to make very easy decisions. And then people are, you know, no fault of them. They’re not bad people. It’s just they fit or they don’t. And it’s better for everyone, if you get people who fit what you’re trying to do, where you’re trying to go and how you want to do it. And then it’s really hard to do, especially in early stage companies, you got to do the performance management thing. You got to you got to hold people accountable, and make sure people are doing what they say they’re doing.
That was Andrew Schultz, CEO and co founder of noiseaware. What’s your best advice when it comes to leadership?
I would say the best advice I’ve gotten and I truly believe it is you have to love what you do and be passionate about what you do. Because as a leader, especially a CEO of a tech startup, you’re gonna face a lot of obstacles and challenges. And you got to love what you do to get through it and to get to the other side. And then you got to make your team inspire a team to get through the tough times to celebrate the good times. Without that passion can’t be done. I think with leadership, it’s one thing that’s really important for CEOs and co founders that grow something from, you know, two employees to 50 employees to 100 employees is to stay focused on the future and the vision and the mission of the company, be the one setting the metrics and the goals. But don’t be the one that’s in the in the weeds, really making people feel micromanage. So my biggest advice is stay really focused and laser focused on what are the where’s the big picture? Where are you going? And what are those important metrics that run your business. And that’s where you should be managing versus in the weeds.
That was Julie Roth Novak, CEO and co founder of party slate,
I would say two main piece of advice for leadership. One is you know, the old cliche of hire people smarter than you and get out of their way. There’s that notion that, you know, if you create a startup, you do it for one of two reasons. You either want to be rich or you want to be king. I’m personally one that wants to be rich. At the end of this, I don’t have to be in charge of a full team. I don’t have to be the boss and make sure that I command this team of people every day. So I’ve replaced myself and just about every job that I’ve done so far, including head of engineering. So that’s, that’s, that’s one of the biggest pieces of advice that I’d give.
That was Todd Larson.
Leadership wise, I would say the best advice that we’ve been given is around hiring, hiring great leaders and hiring them earlier than you think. And then I would say, I mean, the types that you want to be in business with are already pretty curious and have a mentor network, ideally that they’re working with. But having folks that can help you kind of learn some of the stuff you don’t know. And then then the other piece would be for us. We did something called the Entrepreneurial Operating System that came from a book called traction. So for us that was actually helping us like organize how we work. I mean, leadership, I think is just us being really authentic about what we’re doing where we’re going. And then doing that with a system like EOS has been really where that worked for us.
That was Ryan Hansen, CRO and co founder of dispatch.
Yeah, I think kind of in the same theme, right. But Angela Aaron’s who was the retail and apple.com. President, back when I was there, in 2014 2015. And she would always say, look, as a leader, I think you just have to basically eliminate roadblocks. Tell the people where you’re going. And again, make it so that they can be the best that they can be and show up to work every day with their best attitude. And, you know, feel free to ask questions, and basically work as a team. And I like that model for basically, hey, as a leader, I need to remove roadblocks for my people so they can do the best they can.
That was James Don Francesco.
trust people, I think is the biggest thing, find great people to work with. Because at the end of the day, you’re only as good as you are and the more quality people that you can instill trust into and they can trust you back, I think that’s really going to lead to like, ultimate success.
That was Andrew Schultz. Again,
I think leadership comes from the heart. You know, you lead from the heart, the meaning of life is love, and all mouths this time. So you find what you love, the purpose, passion. And when you’re into something, when you believe when you’re committed, leadership kind of comes audio doesn’t matter what sort of person you are, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, leaders lead with their heart, the best leaders lead with their heart, and they connect their time with the stuff they’re passionate about. And so following your heart, as a way to success and happiness, and leader being a great leader, too.
That was Brian, Shawn born again. What advice do you have for founders on go to market and customer acquisition?
So I founded a few companies. And frankly, I think I did a pretty good job of knowing like, when my product was ready to kind of show to people, I’ve met a lot of other founders that have kind of over baked or tried to over build their technology. So it was perfect and ready to go to market. And really, all you need to do is get it so that it’s ready to demo ready to show and ready to get the first couple of customers that will then help you to build the rest of the product. And to the point where they’ll even pay you to help build it the way they would want it to be. And so I’ve just seen a lot of value in like selling your idea. Maybe before it’s even an MVP, but allowing customers to pull you forward in innovation, as opposed to just a salesperson or your own ideas. I’ve seen things go off the rails a lot where a founder overthinks things and over builds things. They waste time, they waste quarters, they waste years, they kill their home equity lines, they can’t get venture funding, they aren’t hearing from customers firsthand. You know, and so I just I see them circling a lot with their ideas. And again, they burn a lot of money, and they can frustrate the heck out of the tech guys that are actually building their thing. And then they they change their mind or they add, there’s always like, Hey, I’m glad you built us to hear but now we need to add these next five features for it to, in my mind be ready to go to market. I’ve been very fortunate in that. I think our Minnesota nice stuff plays really good with customer acquisition. Even if you’re selling across the country, I’ve sold to 1000s of customers, even global customers, and they always appreciate when somebody from Minnesota is selling them a solution, we tend to listen to what they want, they tend to be better configurators if you will have like what an even a demo is. So tell me what you’re after. You know, it’s kind of like what what’s the menu? What, instead of me throwing everything at you like what are you in the mood for right now. So that’s thing one, but thing too is in go to market for entrepreneurs, you just have to be very smart. Like when you acquire your first few customers, you have to pick fights you can win. So you want to find customers that aren’t difficult, who in their mind are almost like emotional investors in what you’re doing? Because it’s going to help them with a killer part of their business. And as they do that you want them to be your early cheerleaders. You want them to be your early advocates. So one of the tricks that I did was I created what I call customer advisory boards right out of the gate and I’ll see if you’ll help me innovate. You’ll help me get you into your company, I will help innovate in the direction you want me to. But I also need you to participate. Because everything today is around. No one believes the founder of this startup, but they believe the customers that you’ve helped to accomplish something. And if you can, like I would bring customers we’d won battles with. And I would be on a demo with a big customer. And I’ll say, Hey, I hope you don’t mind. But I’ve invited one of our other customers to participate in the demo today. And they’re going to share what we’ve done for them. It’s Earth changing, to be able to have that kind of participation in your deals, because you will get to market tremendously faster than hoping or waiting to build 10 customers with 10 referenceable accounts with 10, white papers with 10. You can do a lot of this stuff in the very early days, if you just know how to ask. And I think founders are shy sometimes. And they don’t ask customers, hey, if I do something really great for you, can you then not pay me back but participate. And the irony is good. Customers love innovation, and they can’t do it in their big company. So they think that you’re their outlet for how to innovate and how to do things outside of their own kind of governance and chaos. And the right ones will actually bring you deeper and deeper into their company, as well as look at you as their outlet like they learn investor even though they’re not writing you a check. And that’s just a blast, when you start to get 2468 10 of those, the snowball just goes it’s fantastic.
That was Doug Berg. Again. It’s always
harder than you think. And I think you know, there’s a lot of things that can work a little bit. And so you have to be careful about not spreading yourself too thinly with customer acquisition, find something that you can double down on and go really deep in it versus trying to do you know, all channels, all tactics at the same time.
That was Chris Newton again. In hindsight, what’s a piece of advice you wish you had received earlier on? Wow,
okay, advice I wish I had been given before starting the company, find good partners. If you want to go fast, you need to do it with a lot of other people. I’d say. I wish that we had had more advice on legal as well as capital early on to avoid some mistakes that you can’t really out execute your way out of.
That was Ryan Hansen. Again,
that’s a really good question. Number one, you can’t use an outside tech firm to build your MVP. I wasted I was just me at the beginning, I wasted probably $100,000, which at the time seemed like a lot of money. I know it’s not in the context of a big raise. But working with an outside digital agency. I thought that’s my background, I can manage them. And really what I found would have been better is to get a group of contractors get in a room whiteboard together, get them really invested in the company and build together that way. And so when my tech co founder joined me nine months after I started, we threw away everything that the digital agency build started from scratch.
That was duly rough no back again.
Try to learn from others as much as you can, I think know where you’ve reached like I you know, I think our team, we needed to get outside help sooner than we did. So it was really important to kind of seek that outside help. And we also, we did an incredible job. Kind of scaling the company from the three of us to 400 people. So that was an incredible journey and learning experience.
That was Brian Biss Bala, again.
Well, I’ll tell you some of the best advice I got from the investors as I grew the company, the first was, best time to fundraise is when you’re high on mystery and low on history. Best time to move into a new market is when you’re pulled. Read every legal document you sign. These seem fundamental but sometimes overlooked. And cliche but when you ask for advice, you get money. When you ask for money, you get advice.
That was Andrew Schultz again.
Well, I think that the idea that business is about people, you know, you get so excited about the business model, you get excited about the opportunity, the deal, and you lose sight of the execution and the people and realizing that business is about people like I mentioned and and having the right people by your side makes a difference. You having a quality people with a C opportunity, they’re going to be wildly successful. If you have C’s or DS or F people with an A plus opportunity, you’re gonna fail. So it’s finding great people realizing the importance of people and the quality of people, not just their ability mentally or to be able to execute, but just who they are as people, their ethics, their character, you know, you can you can teach them a lot along the way, but they have to be wired the right way. I think that’s that’s kind of the biggest lesson I learned along the way is just never ever lose sight of the importance of people when you have the right people and the best people with you. Everything’s possible.
That was Brian, Shawn, born again. Was there anyone who particularly went out of their way to help you to become successful? Who was it? And what did they do for you,
the startup process, I met somebody early on. So when I started building the initial MVP, my goal was to get it out in front of as many people as I could. One of the obvious connections with our player evaluation tool was with a company called AI soccer, which was founded by Scott Lieber, out down out in Silicon Valley, he had developed this sort of national standard curriculum for how to measure how good a soccer player is, through a series of 19 measurable tests. And I was sort of building my evaluation tool, using that curriculum as part of the foundation as like an example of what you could do. So I met with him in person out at the United Soccer Coaches convention, it was my first time showing off the app, he came and talked to me, gave me a lot of great encouragement, told me to go read the Lean Startup, which was a wonderful like this sort of, you know, what every founder should be reading, right? And really, really got me off to a great positive start.
That was Todd Larson. Again.
For me, and closer network, I’d say the several of the founders that I worked with that sports engine, were invaluable to me when we went out on our own journey, to be able to come back to some of those folks who were founders and had done this before and ask for their perspective, and maybe help us with with some of the items, help us kind of learn what we had no idea we didn’t know. And then I’d say, We’ve been really fortunate the network around here, in terms of like access to capital, the different like, whether it’s beta.mn, great. North is a great example. And many others, I don’t know, we’ve had great resources available to us through either the, you know, old network connections that had started businesses like this or or folks that were volunteering to help.
That was Ryan Hansen again,
yeah, I think, in the early days is an example Mindy Weiss, who’s a celebrity event planner out of LA really was drawn to our model of really focusing on events for the inspiration, not hairstyles or dresses, or, you know, great gifts, it was all about the creativity of the event itself. And so very early on Mindy Weiss, who does all the Kardashian parties and everything else, came onto our advisory board. And literally, I had just launched it was a PowerPoint in a dream. And she said, Julie, I want to help you. And by getting Mindy Weiss on board, probably one of the most well known wedding and event planners in the country, if not the world, she really legitimize what we are doing and our vision. And that helps get a lot other people on board a party slave,
that was duly Roth Novak. Again,
I would say kind of a hybrid, I have had people along the way who have mentored me, and who have really encouraged me to be the best that I can be, who have told me James, you know what, even though the crowd might say, Don’t be genuine or authentic. Sometimes you have to kind of skip ahead or omit certain things, I’ve learned that I’m going to be honest and frank, and I’m going to do the best I can every day. And so the mentors that I’ve had in my life helped solidify that. I also would say, Yeah, I’ve had to work pretty hard to get to where I am. And I think the networks that you build, even way back when I started college and met Ryan and Rob, obviously that was helpful to get to know these guys, because, you know, it’s it’s, as they always say, it’s lines, not dots, you don’t come in heavy and hope to get, you know, a top notch position. And you know, from one interview, right, you it’s a it’s a long term relationship. We’ve gotten to know each other. And I think that that’s really special. And so Robin Ryan, obviously are incredible founders themselves, incredible leaders and, you know, really people that I look up to from, you know, how do you do a startup and the subject matter expertise, in particular, Ryan as a card investor is somebody who I’ve gotten to know much deeper, because he’s got all these insights that represents my customer. And so that’s been really helpful to be able to access his brain and of course, he’s incredibly knowledgeable about that stuff.
That was James Don Francesco again
A few people along the ways some of our angel investors that were seasoned entrepreneurs and seasoned investors that had been through many different companies were able to provide with lots of, I guess, more than answers questions, because like, what I found is the answer doesn’t matter nearly as much as the question. So knowing the right things to ask at the right time, that’s probably been the best piece of advice.
That was Jai kissoon, president of treble LLC.
I’m gonna say Brian schoenborn. Brian is on our board. And, you know, he’s an investor. But he spent a lot of time you know, early on connecting the dots for us. I’d say at least half of our investors came through Brian, and he’s put a lot of time we talk to him every single week in our early days. Advisory calls put a lot of time aside for us.
That was Chris Knutson again,
well, I can’t think of anything. Any specific person other than my two co founders, I think having three founders of a company was vital, because, you know, as any startup can attest to there’s definitely ups and downs. So without the benefit of your of great partners that you really trust, the support you through those ups and downs, you know, one person can have be having a crappy day and the other person can really help keep you going. I think we had many moments where we were like, What the hell are we doing here? Why are we doing this and like that, I think the combination of having those key founders those, those people you are in battle with and living that through really help keep you going. So that I think my two partners are on was the ones that I think of top of mine. So
that was Brian Biss Bala, again,
our very first investor, I still talk to on a weekly basis, generally for less than 30 minutes, but just a real quick check in. And it’s the hardest part about starting a company and leading company is you’re kind of alone. There’s no one you can really ask for advice. You’re, by definition, the expert in the world or whatever you do. And having some outside perspective, just ask, just talk through the issues you’re dealing with is is incredibly valuable. Whether it helps or not, I still have the choice to take their advice or not. But just the ability to talk through it not feel alone is incredibly, incredibly important.
That was Andrew Schultz again. We’ll close with Jai kissoon, giving his best advice to founders on fundraising, which is just great, general advice for founders as well have your
story down. I mean, honestly, it really comes down to having that guiding mission. And I know it’s bigger than a mission statement bigger than a value statement, but and then bringing everything back to that story and being able to have you know, everything reflected from financial performance to what you’re doing in marketing, really fall in line in line with that story.
Thanks for joining us on execution is King
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
We are pleased to announce the launch of our venture studio, Great North Venture Labs. Great North Venture Labs will design and build companies with world-class founders and operators that are in focused market segments with substantial opportunities. Promising studio startups will be funded with capital from the second Great North venture fund.
The venture studio model is a relatively new model for entrepreneurship that combines company building with venture capital. By creating researched opportunities from great ideas, and pairing them with talent that can execute, Great North Venture Labs will create early-stage startups built to succeed. These startups will be vetted for funding, with seed capital coming from Great North Ventures (formerly Great North Labs).
Great North Ventures will focus on investing in founders who are applying breakthrough tech to inefficient processes. Our first two Great North Venture Labs companies are headquartered where we have the strongest talent pipeline, in Minnesota. In light of today’s reality of startups adopting a remote-first approach to developing their teams, Great North Ventures will encourage founders to build where they are.
We are flexible with respect to what the right business model is, and will pursue different business model types including enterprise SAAS, online marketplaces, and online community/social networks. Strong execution translates to all verticals and business models, and knows no borders.
This is an evolution from our initial positioning. The truth is that the latest opportunities, teams, and new ventures are distributed. Remote work is becoming standard, and our geographic investment focus has become increasingly arbitrary. Good opportunities happen anywhere people can execute them.
Before we launched Great North Labs in 2017, we considered launching a venture fund and a venture studio. Predating the launch of Great North Labs, Ryan Weber and I traveled the world as founders, and we were able to see great examples of the venture studio/incubator type of businesses such as Betaworks in NYC, IdealLab in LA (our partners in Fund I portfolio company Branch), and High Alpha (our partners in Fund I portfolio Structural) in Indianapolis. Locally, Rally Ventures (our Fund I partners in Parallax) and Invenshure (our Fund I partners in Flywheel) have successfully executed this studio model too. After much consideration, we opted to exclusively focus on launching our venture fund first so that we could develop a strong platform as early stage investors.
Now that we are getting started to launch Fund II, we now have a more robust internal team along with our Innovator Network. This strong foundation rooted in strong execution from founders and operators who have demonstrated excellence in execution enable us to do so where most other early stage funds lack operational depth.
We are not just service providers, we are entrepreneurs!
One of the biggest questions we get from our fund’s Limited Partners is how can we build even large ownership in the startups we invest our capital and resources into. With the explosion of new early stage funds, including those that invest earlier such as in pre-seed, the competition for the best deals is fierce. There is no more proprietary deal flow than ground up building a startup, and the opportunity to pick teams centered around strong foundation execution enables us to de-risk the earlier stages at a level not possible by most other funds.
The first Great North Venture Labs company
The first Great North Venture Labs company is in stealth mode. The new startup is focused on solving the biggest problems faced by collectors of trading cards. Like many other alt assets such as luxury goods, paintings, vintage cars, NFTs, the trading card market has grown immensely over recent years, but the market is still dominated by legacy marketplaces and other industry participants, many of which rely on dated technology and analog business processes. It looks to enhance the trading card market by using breakthrough technologies not available to prior businesses operating in the trading card market.
This stealth startup is headquartered in Minnesota. Additional details will be shared at a later date.
The University of St. Thomas (UST) is the largest private university in Minnesota with ~10,000 students. The business school, the Opus College of Business, is #2 in the state for undergraduate business education. The Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, named for Best Buy founder Richard Schulze, is #1 in the state and nationally ranked. Digital transformation and education trends are driving big changes at the university in how entrepreneurs are educated and how startups are supported.
This year the university announced the end of its full-time MBA program, and a focus on part-time and online MBAs, citing the changing demand for graduate business education. The decline is part of a local and national trend trend, as Minneapolis-St. Paul MBA program applications are down 20% in the past five years, and as top ten business schools even see double digit declines.
We’re not here to argue for or against an MBA, but to call attention to the fact that the perception of the degree is shifting, and UST is shifting with demand.
At Great North Labs, we don’t prioritize pedigrees. Whatever your background, what is important is whether or not you can execute. Whether you’re working from theory or practice, it comes down to the product and your delivery of it.
Elon Musk weighed in on MBAs with the Wall Street Journal recently, saying, “I think there might be too many MBAs running companies. There’s the MBA-ization of America, which I think is, maybe not that great.”
So that begs the question: outside of the MBA program, how is UST supporting innovation? What is UST doing to get students “onto the factory floor” and spending time with customers?
How University of St. Thomas Raises Up Startup Entrepreneurship
For answers, we turned to Great North Labs own Mike Schulte, JD/MBA ’17. Mike has experience with the Opus College, the School of Law, and the Schulze School, as well as the university’s other programs and initiatives. He is not only keyed in to the school’s programs, but speaks as an investor and startup ecosystem supporter through Great North Labs, and can speak to how his educational experience has helped his career in venture capital.
The Aristotle Fund provides real investing experience to students. The fund is a 100% student-managed investment fund, and is the ultimate in experiential learning. Gerald Rauenhorst, the founder of a construction company that became The Opus Group, (and UST Trustee from 1966 to 2012), provided the initial $5M for the fund. The gift was kept anonymous for the first 17 years, until 2016. Rauenhorst stipulated that there be no faculty oversight in the investment decisions. Consequently, though it is run as a class, every student manager is invested in the Fund’s performance to the point where it is a full-time job.
Official mentors include accomplished portfolio managers at top local investment firms. One attends the class every week to give feedback on pitches, and they pull no punches. Mike has acted as an unofficial mentor for the class, and continues to make connections through his former classmates.
“This was the best educational experience I ever had, and I could easily find 20 other people to tell you the exact same thing. When we get together we still talk about spending hours in front of the Bloomberg terminal scouring analyst reports and how it has shaped our careers,” said Mike. “I would not be able to do what I do at Great North Labs if it weren’t for the Aristotle Fund. That is why I recommend these students for positions.”
Servant Leadership creates ethical behavior in entrepreneurs. Servant Leadership is prioritized as part of the UST mission, with both the law school and the business school focusing a lot on self development. They bring in examples from industry to exhibit how this looks in practice, which include Pat Ryan of Ryan Companies US Inc., Dennis Monroe of Monroe Moxness Berg PA, and Alan Page, former Minnesota Supreme Court justice and NFL Hall-of-Famer. They challenge their students to adopt these same principles.
UST talks a lot about Servant Leadership as a foundation of their mission, and it is visible in everything they do. Laura Dunham, Associate Dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, was recently featured in the Stanford Innovation Lab podcast episode “Teaching Ethical Entrepreneurship”. The podcast focuses on elevating applied ethics in the field of entrepreneurship.
“I have students reaching out to me all the time to ask for career advice, and I never say no. I helped one student with an internship at a law firm I worked for. I’ve written letters of recommendation on behalf of students. This is what servant leadership looks like,” said Mike. “I really believe that faculty choose UST for the culture and that is why they punch above their weight class in that regard.”
At Great North Labs, we also believe in the principles of servant leadership. We support and give back to the communities we belong to, including organizations making a difference in the startup ecosystem. In addition to cash and time, we donate equity through our Founders Pledge so that when Great North Labs has a win, we all benefit.
The Schulze School of Entrepreneurship pays students to work at early-stage startups. St. Thomas is arguably the most aggressive university in Minnesota at placing their students in early-stage growth companies. This sets them up to learn the skills required to execute and operate a successful startup business. These internships provide the “factory floor” experience that isn’t found in the classroom.
The Summer Internship Grant program provides funding for some students while they intern at an early-stage startup. Companies interested in entrepreneurship students can inquire through the “Hire a Tommiepreneur” page on the St. Thomas website.
gBeta St. Thomas program. gBETA is a program of gener8tor, a nationally-ranked startup accelerator with programs across the US and Canada. The seven-week accelerator is for early-stage companies, and is free, requiring no fees nor equity. Great North Labs is a proud partner of gener8tor, and a supporter of gBETA Greater MN-St. Cloud.
gBETA St. Thomas is exclusively available to students and alumni of the University of St. Thomas. Companies of any stage, industry, or business model can apply to participate. The next cohort is July 13th -Sept. 3rd.
Mentor Externships give you a dose of the day-to-day reality, before you’re committed to it. The mentor-externship program at the School of Law requires at least 1 hour of “experiences” per week, where students are in the field, with mentors (usually UST alum), learning what lawyers do on a daily basis. This is completely self-directed, and students pick the fields they want to learn about.
“For me, it was actually helpful in teaching me what I didn’t want to do which, in hindsight, was incredibly valuable. When I entered law school, I liked the idea of spending my days as a litigator in the courtroom… when I dug a little deeper, I determined that it wasn’t for me,” said Mike. “In addition to the externship, there was one semester where you worked 2-3 days a week in an internship. I worked at St. Paul City Hall. I had always liked local politics, but in practice… that was not the case. Every student’s experience was unique in this program, but I have no doubt that it was far more valuable than sitting in a traditional classroom setting.”
Real consulting experience with real clients. The Applied Business Research course takes a team of 4 and assigns a client with a marketing need. The consulting team spends 6 weeks putting together a project, just like a marketing agency would do.
“My project was for Code42. Code42 was considering a new product launch and wanted to know how to market it. Our research, including secondary, IT executive interviews, mass surveys, etc., uncovered that their customers cared less about the new product and more about security concerns,” said Mike. “Today, Code42 is positioned as an enterprise security software company. While I’m sure they weren’t relying on our research independently, I do think we provided valuable insights.”
By the Numbers
St. Thomas has 34,000 business alumni worldwide. 96% of them found employment, or went on to graduate school, within 4 months of graduating. Undergraduates from the School of Entrepreneurship have gone on to raise $42.9M in subsequent funding. 71% of the companies started by undergraduate alumni in the last 10 years are still in business. gBETA St. Thomas has helped develop and support a dozen local startups, without extracting capital or equity from the founders.
Mike Schulte has seen first-hand the founders, talent, and startups that St. Thomas’s programs generate and support. He himself launched his career in venture capital thanks to the experiences he had at St. Thomas., and has been with Great North Labs for 3 years.
Mike isn’t the only UST success story with Great North Labs. Two of our portfolio startups, TeamGenius and Clinician Nexus, are led by UST alumni founders. Our portfolio of startups employs 19 University of St. Thomas alumni all together. That’s almost one alumni for every startup we invest in!
Why it Matters
Though the market for full-time MBAs is fluctuating, UST is pro-actively adjusting to emerging trends. The school is re-thinking it’s educational offerings, as it adjusts to meet demands, but is maintaining rigor and efficacy. In short, digital transformation is fueling innovation instead of fueling attrition.
While that change might not quite reach the level of “Hey, teacher! Leave the kids alone!”, it’s definitely not business as usual. The entrepreneurial support programs that have emerged across disciplines, schools, and functions are signs of this shift, and of the continued commitment of UST.
Those programs have continued to produce and support startups, founders, and talent, even as ideas of entrepreneurial education evolve. And during these challenging times, St. Thomas’s values have shined through, with the school emerging in the national scene as a leader in ethical entrepreneurship. That’s a mark of smart leadership for the largest private university in Minnesota.
Tech Sector’s Growth has Accelerated
It is no secret that during the pandemic, the tech sector is delivering stronger returns than other sectors.
As examples, underlying the stock prices, Zoom sessions increased from 10M daily in Dec 2019 to 200M daily in March 2020. Daily broadband usage in the US jumped from 13.2GB in March 2020 to 15.3GB in August 2020. Over the 10 years from 2009-19, US e-commerce penetration went from from 5.6 to 27%. E-Books have been flying off e-library shelves. Doctors are seeing patients via e-health. E-ceremonies are delivering graduations, weddings, and birthday events.
Communications, software, biotech, and e-commerce have been among the best performers. On the other hand, non-tech sectors such as airlines, cruise lines, casinos, and automotive, have receded. And in low-growth or stagnant sectors, the tech-enabled disruptors have grown the fastest. For example, in entertainment, witness the growth of streaming media at the expense of cable services. Or in education, witness the growth of e-learning enabled enterprises.
Pandemic as Change Agent
Why have Zoom, Twilio, Shopify, and Atlassian become runaway successes? The COVID crisis has boosted them more than most other companies: Zoom for everyone to run businesses, schools, events; Twilio for cloud communications; Shopify to find online growth while controlling one’s destiny compared to selling on Amazon; Atlassian to manage projects; and several others.
As humbling as it is to acknowledge this fact, while venture capital and venture firms are recognized as drivers of digital transformation, the pandemic has been a much bigger factor in driving growth. At Great North Labs we terminated our office lease and deployed reporting methods for our portfolio companies that enable electronic data transfer and analysis. We conducted our own 2020 annual meeting as an e-meeting. In lieu of serving hors d’ouvres at a live event, we used a local startup to send Giftbombs. As much as we have pondered these ideas in times past, the pandemic is motivating this digital transformation.
Where to Invest?
So, in this mix, where should we invest?
- Money market funds? They will not keep up with inflation.
- Real estate? Only if you want a traditional rate of return.
- The stock market? Only if you invest in tech and tech-enabled businesses with strong balance sheets. And if you need easy liquidity.
- Venture capital? Maybe.
Venture capital has the potential of highest value creation of any asset class. All the big tech companies started as venture-funded startups. Imagine if you had invested a few dollars in them when they were young. The negatives of venture investments are that they are not liquid for several years. So, if you can invest and wait, this is a good option. Another key negative is that many investments fail. For this reason, investing as family and friends from a limited pool you have access to is riskier than from vetting across a large pipeline by a venture fund.
It is also true that innovative companies get started at the highest rate during downturns and discontinuities, such as the pandemic crisis we are in now. As a result, more than ever, the world is now teeming with start-ups building solutions to make the world better with high capital efficiency. And they are targeting every sector: healthtech with new drugs and vaccines; supply chains with secure ledgers; insuretech with more tailored insurance; fintech with better access to and management of personal or enterprise capital; foodtech for better food and access; mediatech for pervasive information and media access…you see the picture. Then there are startups enabling these companies: companies enabling training and placement of specialized workers; companies delivering customer service more effectively; companies providing remote accounting, legal, and marketing; and companies training and retraining workers for the future – in product development, customer service, accounting, marketing, demand generation, or anything else.
The world does not need more brick-and-mortar businesses sustained by PPP loans. They can reinforce or repair moats, but we will get better returns from supporting the young innovators. The world needs startups that build value in the post-pandemic world in capital efficient ways, and help the brick-and-mortar incumbents get a new lease on life.
The Decade Ahead
How long will this new wave of startups continue, and what is the period over which their value creation will deliver returns?
The impact of past pandemics – smallpox, yellow fever, bubonic plague – rippled through economies for decades, and caused permanent changes. Among other things, outcomes of past pandemics included industrial equipment for productivity increases to offset population losses, vaccines for health, social safety nets, and new fiscal and monetary policy. Many of these changes have now been part of our lives for decades and in some cases centuries.
In the current pandemic, we have already seen seismic shifts. Post-COVID, the seedlings of Silicon Valley are sprouting at an ever-faster rate in Middle America and many other locations worldwide. At Great North Labs, we believe venture investing and the creation of new enterprises will spawn a new productivity cycle that will permeate economies across the globe over the coming years and decades. In the widespread, tech-enabled economic recovery that we are already seeing, the current venture investment cycle which will seed new startups may well be among the more productive than its recent predecessors.
NOTE: THIS DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AN OFFER OR SOLICITATION WITH RESPECT TO GREAT NORTH FUND INTERESTS IN ANY JURISDICTION IN WHICH SUCH OFFER OR SOLICITATION WOULD BE UNLAWFUL.
On March 19, 2020, a bill proposing the New Business Preservation Act was submitted to the Senate that seeks to drive economic activity, innovation, and job growth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. The New Business Preservation Act will provide equity funding for new businesses, with larger allocations directed to areas lacking in capital including the Midwest.
While the bill was important even earlier, the events of recent weeks add urgency. Dollar for dollar, it represents possibly the most effective grassroots economic stimulus for the mid-to-long term (2-10 years). Even for the immediate months ahead, it can stem job losses among venture-based businesses.
As an early-stage venture fund based in the Midwest, Great North Labs believes this legislation will drive startup activity and value creation in the undercapitalized regions of our country. Entrepreneurship is a proven, capital-efficient way to build economic value and transform regions, and adding capital to our under-capitalized region will bolster existing entrepreneurial ventures and encourage new ones.
Our support of this legislation is apolitical. As investors, we see the success of this approach every day. Around the world, venture capitalists who pick talent, invest in portfolio companies, and work with their ecosystem (including government) enable grassroots wealth creation. Better than any stimulus or wealth transfer mechanism, the most powerful and durable antidote to economic inequality is new value creation. It is not the CCC or WPA creating jobs for the sake of paying people, or the government distributing wealth, this is grassroots economic growth driven by venture capital. It is not a one-time distribution. It does not depend on daily oscillations of the stock market which cannot possibly reflect true changes in economic value. Rather, it drives true economic value creation through innovation.
“Senator Klobuchar’s bill is a positive step at a critical time. As we look at how to cope with the challenges presented by the coronavirus, we should not lose sight of the critical role new businesses play in creating jobs. The New Business Preservation Act will help level the playing field, by backing entrepreneurs in every state and every zip code, and lead to a more inclusive economy.”-Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution (Revolution operates the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund focused on investing in areas outside of traditional VC hubs.)
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Coons, Sen. Angus King, and Sen. Tim Kaine. It seeks to create an Innovation and Startups Equity Investment Program (ISEI) within the Department of the Treasury. The Program will “allocate money to certain States to assist high-potential scalable startups access venture capital to commercialize innovations, create jobs, and accelerate economic growth, and for other purposes.”
The legislation calls for $2B to go to the ISEI, with $1.5B going to initial funding and administrative costs, and a further $500M for follow-on investments. Eighty percent of funds would go to the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest, with distributions based on population and adjusted for VC money already present, according to Leigh Buchanan at Inc. magazine, and as exits produce returns, they will be “reinvested in the next generation of businesses, creating a sustainable funding resource.”
Feasibility of the approach
Investing in America’s startups by following VC leads into deals is a fiscally responsible approach. As the chart below of VC returns by vintage year shows, even in recessionary years, returns are at an acceptable level for U.S. Treasury purposes.
Startups headquartered in the under-capitalized areas targeted by the bill will likely outperform the national averages because they generally are more capital efficient due to nascent capital markets to support them. It’s not unreasonable to expect a 5%-15% IRR even in recessionary times. This is accomplished because VC is a long-term investment vehicle, which is the perfect counter to a short-term financial crisis.
Small business vs. startup vs. tech startup
While the article and press release talk about “small businesses” and “new businesses”, the bill deals strictly with startups. A “startup” is defined in the bill as a business entity that:
- Has existed less than 10 years
- Has the “intention or
potential to” do ALL of the following:
- significantly scale with respect to revenue and job creation
- develop innovative products or services
- deliver high returns on investment
- Is headquartered in a qualifying area
While there is no mention of the word “technology” in the bill, most people associate startups with tech for good reason. New technologies drive, catalyze, and enable innovations central to new business models, products, and entities. While using a new technology is not required for a startup to put together a winning formula (or to get funding from the ISEI), many of the most innovative and successful companies in the world relied on either new or novel uses to create their businesses.
These companies often require upfront equity investment in order to achieve the scale necessary with their new software or hardware technologies to become viable, high-growth companies. Unlike a services, manufacturing, or industrial business, technology startups rarely have the assets or the initial sales base to obtain traditional bank financing.
The capital gap
Currently, in many of the vast, regional economies outside of VC centers, private investments are reserved for real estate and other traditional vehicles. The need for liquidity in the innovation ecosystem is not met. Because of this, startups in the Midwest and other under-capitalized areas have to work with a capital efficiency not required in more capital-rich areas.
This lean approach can be productive in the early stages of a company’s life by helping to refine products and achieve product-market fit out of necessity. This efficiency is an advantage that Midwestern startups have over coastal startups when capital markets start to freeze up in an economic downturn.
However, once the opportunity for rapid growth and scaling arrive, large amounts of capital are necessary for a startup to reach its potential. Until recently, this meant relocating the operation to Silicon Valley, Boston, or New York. Along with the promising startups goes the jobs created, profits generated, and other ancillary economic benefits. This capital gap is where venture funds such as Drive Capital, Great North Labs, Hyde Park Venture Partners, Rally Ventures, and others that specifically focus on areas underserved by venture capital, work to provide the capital, guidance, and networks required to fuel growth and build long-term value.
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.
$23.7 Million Raised
Great North Labs has closed its first fund with $23.7M in committed capital! This is one of the largest debut seed funds ever raised in the Midwest.
“We are very appreciative and humbled by the tremendous support shown for our debut fund by our limited partners,” said Great North Labs Managing Partner Rob Weber. “Our investors’ support shows not only their conviction for us as fund managers, but also their conviction to backing the next generation of startup founders across our region.”
This fund raise has exceeded our team’s expectations, and has increased our capacity, reach and impact as we cultivate the next generation of tech startups across the Upper Midwest.
“The opportunity in the Midwest is significant for investors with the right experience, criteria and investment thesis. For four decades, capital has gravitated towards Silicon Valley, Boston and New York. With the high cost of living and a talent supply-demand imbalance, making a startup successful is now more difficult in Silicon Valley,” said Managing Partner Pradip Madan, who is based in Silicon Valley. “As a result, investors are starting to pay more attention to the startup ecosystems in places like Chicago, Minneapolis, Madison and Des Moines. Plus, many of the industries – financial, food, travel and hospitality, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, mining – that entrepreneurs are now disrupting are native to these areas. In the new Gold Rush, the gold is the hard-working entrepreneurs and their startups in these regions.”
Read more at VentureBeat, the Star Tribune, Yahoo Finance, the Minneapolis-St. Paul or Milwaukee Business Journals, MinneInno or ChicagoInno, Tech.MN, the Grand Rapids Herald, the St. Cloud Times…
July 17-18th. Enterprise Rising, Minneapolis. “If you’re an enterprise SaaS startup, then this will be the best room you’ll be in all year.”
July 17-18th. Fund Conference, Chicago. Brad Feld of Foundry Group is the featured speaker this year. “FUND Conference was launched in 2015 to connect investors, vetted, emerging-growth companies, and business leaders for same-day connections and business development opportunities.”
July 18th. Minnedemo32, St. Paul. A showcase of working tech products made in Minnesota. No PowerPoint, 7 minutes to present.
July 24th. Horizon, St. Paul. This is Forge North’s activation event for ecosystem leaders. “If you are ready to look to the horizon, set clear and ambitious new goals for our region, and rally around breakthrough ideas, partners in Forge North invite you to join in.”
July 25th. TedX Fargo 2019: Forward, Fargo. “We want to empower people to be solution-orientated, believing that ideas can change the way the world works. We want to encourage you to listen to new ideas, find a topic that you’re passionate about, and then take action to enable those ideas. Join us as we celebrate our 10th TEDxFargo event, and 10 years of TEDx!”
Two Great North Labs advisors are new to the team!
Geoff Wood is the founder of Gravitate Coworking in Des Moines, Iowa, as well as the Executive Director of the West Des Moines Business Incubator. Geoff co-founded and publishes Clay & Milk, a media startup that covers the Iowa entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Mike Rynchek is the former CTO of Bright Health. Before that, Mike founded and served as CEO of Spyder Trap, which was acquired by Bright Health. He is currently the Global Strategy Lead for Onduo, and an active startup investor and advisor.
Dispatch is hiring all over the country (25 cities!) for Field Sales Representatives and Drivers. In Bloomington, MN, they are hiring an Engineer, a UX Designer, and for Biz Dev, Customer Experience, and Driver Engagement roles.
FactoryFix is hiring a Software Engineer in Madison, WI, and a Business Development Specialist and an Account Managers in Chicago.
Misty Robotics is hiring a Manufacturing and Repair Engineer, a Devops Engineer, and a Sr. Software Engineer, in Boulder, CO.
pepr is hiring for Biz Dev – Outbound Sales in Minneapolis.
2ndKitchen is hiring a Full-Stack Developer in Brooklyn, NY, and an Operations Associate in Chicago.
PrintWithMe is hiring a Business Development Executive, a Customer Success Manager, a Strategy Intern, and a Marketing and Operations Intern.
2019 is here! Since Great North Labs is a proponent of iterating based on data-driven feedback, it’s time for a look at the best-performing content from 2018. What captured people’s interest? What is the Great North community interested in?
- Facebook controversy. Rob Weber’s post about Sheryl Sandberg and the importance of “integrators” titled, of course, “Sheryl Sandberg and the Importance of Integrators“,is the top post of the year. The Facebook COO faced a lot of criticism in the past year, and Mark Zuckerberg, the Woz to Sandberg’s Jobs, found himself testifying before Congress this past April for 10 hours. Facebook has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of data breaches and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and public interest remains high as the 68% of Americans who use Facebook grapple with the implications of data insecurity.
- The Internet of Things. Pradip Madan’s white paper on the third generation of IoT and the industrial internet is well-researched and thought-provoking, with input by Great North Labs advisors at Protolabs and Misty Robotics. Pradip makes the case that we are uniquely situated in the upper Midwest to originate the next wave of tech-enabled disruption in IoT in “IoT 3.0“.
- Venture capital investing. Pradip Madan writes about VC as an investment class is his white paper, “Where to Invest in the Midwest: Venture Across Asset Classes“. He examines the benefits of venture investing as an asset class even during a down cycle, and how funds can provide protection from multi-year downturns. Pradip also enumerates the unique advantages that Midwest venture funds offer.
- The Midwest tech ecosystem. “Putting the ‘Silicon’ in Silicon Lakes”, by Great North Labs Managing Partners, Rob Weber, Ryan Weber, and Pradip Madan, enumerates the key ingredients required to create an innovation hub like Silicon Valley that fosters growth and startups. It is part mission statement, part love letter, and all about the opportunity present in the upper Midwest.
For more content, click below to browse all of our articles. You can also sign up below to receive our newsletter, which has job links, portfolio news and events in addition to articles; or follow the links to social media and video content on Youtube.
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!
Follow these links for more info for investors and startups. Or contact us!
Thanks to everyone for coming, and stay tuned for future events!
Oct. 8th-14th, Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW), Greater Minneapolis-St.Paul Area. Over 200 events scheduled!
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.
Great North Labs’s August Update
Fostering Midwest success means making guidance and capital available for tech startups
Great North Labs got the front-page treatment in the Star Tribune Business section this Sunday. Former investment banker, consultant and corporate officer (and current business journalist) Lee Schafer talked about building successful tech companies with Ryan and Rob Weber– including the importance of providing advice and mentorship in addition to capital.
Rob also caught up with former advisor and mentor Young Sohn, President of Samsung, and former advisee and investee Mynul Khan, CEO of FieldNation. They illustrate the success that can come with “a little bit of money and a lot of advice”.
If a startup is considering moving from the Midwest to find that success, as Rob says in the article, “It shouldn’t be because the capital can’t find you. It shouldn’t be because you can’t get the mentorship you need.”
September 17th, St. Cloud – Great North Labs Startup Ecosystem Kickoff. This invite-only event is THE annual event for Great North Labs! We will hear from:
Mary Grove, Partner at Revolution/Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, formerly Director of Google for Entrepreneurs
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, President/CEO of Minnesota High Tech Association
Matt Lewis, Director of Make It MSP @ Greater MSP, team member at Forge North
Mynul Khan, founder/ CEO of FieldNation
Corey Koskie, former Minnesota Twin, Founder at Linklete
Mark Ritchie, former Minnesota Secretary of State
Talks include “Why the Future is Bright for Startups Across America” and an “Outlook for Minnesota Technology & Innovation”.
A panel discussion on Sports Tech features local startup executives from SportsEngine, SportsRadar, SportsHub, and Starting11, while an Outstate Entrepreneurship panel will feature leaders from local accelerators, investors and entrepreneurs who are actively involved in outstate, upper Midwest ventures.
Great North Labs portfolio companies will give updates, and will be available to connect with. These include: Dispatch, Structural, Pitchly, ZapInfo, TeamGenius and FactoryFix.
This is about building the startup ecosystem, so there will be plenty of time for some high-quality networking and hors d’oeuvres.
If you haven’t received an invite, go here to request one. Tickets are free, but the invite list is filling up fast! After you receive your invitation, tickets for you and up to 2 guests can be claimed via Eventbrite.
October 8th-14th, Greater Minneapolis-St.Paul Area. Twin Cities Startup Week. With too many events scheduled to list, we’ll just focus on our own:
Great North Labs Pre-TedX Happy Hour, St. Cloud. From 5-6pm October 11th, 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.
Past Event: Forward Fest was a great event this year, with Ryan Weber in Madison for two days (Aug. 20-21) of the annual week-long Wisconsin startup gathering. The fun started at Starting Block Madison, where GNL Advisor Nick Kartos ( CEO-GymDandy) helped facilitate a meet-and-greet happy hour. The event pitted MN and WI microbrews against each other, while entrepreneurs and investors had a chance to check out Starting Block’s space and hear about Great North Labs. The next day, Ryan moderated a panel on Startup-Corporate Partnerships at the Forward Technology Conference (Forward Fest’s “headline tech conference”). Thanks to everyone who came out, and thanks for the help, Nick!
ZAPinfo is new to the Great North Labs portfolio. Formerly WebClipDrop, ZAPinfo is an information automation and productivity tool that helps recruiters and sales professionals be more productive by capturing, enriching, and sharing data easily across the web and any web based applications. With one click, users can gather a plethora of information about candidates from a variety of web sources, and with another click export it to any web form or app, or to a CSV, PDF, or other data file.
ZAPinfo is led by CEO/founder Doug Berg, who previously founded Jobs2Web and techies.com, and is an expert on workforce and career trends.
Great North Labs welcomed two new advisors in August:
Daine Billmark, Senior Manager at TransUnion (formerly eBureau).
Wade Beavers, President of Mobile at Newscycle Solutions.
Welcome to the team!
Dispatch is hiring Drivers in Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Orlando, and Minneapolis.
Structural is hiring an Account Executive and a Senior Software Engineer.
Team Genius is hiring a Lead Full-Stack Engineer.
Pitchly is hiring a UI/UX designer and Core engineer- watch for postings or contact directly for details.