Guest blog by Rob Weber, Great North Labs
Our region is hitting the reset button with respect to the culture it has created in supporting innovation. Through the leadership underway across our region’s leading universities, high schools and entrepreneurially oriented non-profits (i.e. MN Cup, Beta.mn, and Minne*) additional resources and mentorship are being directed at young entrepreneurs who represent the future of job growth and prosperity in the state and region we love. Our private sector is coming together too through the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation’s leadership and our new early stage venture fund Great North Labs, and our State government is pushing forward with new initiatives to improve the culture for innovation in our region.
A Local University’s Effort to Improve Support for Young Founders
Let’s look at the history and current efforts underway at St. Cloud State University. Former St. Cloud State students have gone on to found some of our region’s most successful startups. Before Travis Kalanick founded Uber, Mynul Khan founded Field Nation while studying computer science at St. Cloud State. Field Nation could be described as the Uber for field technicians. The company Mynul founded now employs over 200 employees and has a platform which processes thousands and thousands of field IT worker orders per year. And then there is the story of Peter Taunton, another fellow Husky. Peter recognized the need for no frill gyms which could be run with significantly lower membership dues than larger gyms and founded Snap Fitness. Snap Fitness now has 2,000+ global locations in over 18 countries and is one of the very largest fitness companies in the world. At the core of these two massive entrepreneurial successes were extremely driven, tenacious founders whose ambitions carried them far. It is with this context that it was my pleasure to stop back to St. Cloud State to see what ideas are being incubated by current St. Cloud State students through the annual Husky Pitch event led St. Cloud State’s Entrepreneurship Club.
Although each of the final seven final startup teams which presented at the Husky Pitch showed plenty of ambition and vision, the two startup teams which stood out the most to me were OUT Café and Remedy Club.
Since moving to greater St. Cloud area in 2013, co-founder Catherine Larson found it challenging to find a place that felt safe for the LGBTQ+ community and also fostered a culture of acceptance. And it isn’t just a problem in St. Cloud. LGBT youth who typically come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to have a suicide attempt. Youth have little to no public LGBT space that allow them to participate. And it isn’t just a problem for youth… Up to 25% of the general LGBT community has a moderate alcohol dependency, compared to 5-10% of the general population. One of the drivers of this higher alcohol dependency among the LGBT community can be attributed to bars as being the lone public space where they feel safe and accepted. The idea behind OUT Café is to create an LGBTQ+ safe space and sell a culture of acceptance. Plans are underway to develop the first OUT Café retail location in downtown St. Cloud.
Brothers Andrew and John Dahlberg have been experimenting with various entrepreneurial endeavors throughout their time studying at St. Cloud State. Their latest startup pursuit is called Remedy Club, a natural wellness monthly subscription box. Remedy Club is more than idea, the Dahlberg’s will be launching soon. Signup to be notified for when they begin taking orders for their subscription box- https://remedyclub.com
Congratulations to each of the seven finalists in the 2019 Husky Pitch! Thanks to Entrepreneurship Club President Caitlyn Casper for leading the charge to keep the Husky Pitch going, continuing the tradition of entrepreneurially ambition from St. Cloud State students.
Want to support the St. Cloud State Entrepreneurship Club? Join me in contributing to their $10,000 fundraising campaign to continue to grow their program- https://www.gofundme.com/st-cloud-state-entrepreneurship-club
Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation Supporting Entrepreneurship
Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, which leads economic development for the Greater St. Cloud community, is focusing resources on and collaborating with partners in creating and supporting a robust ecosystem for start-ups. This includes contributing and raising funds towards this effort and convening individuals who are champions of business start-ups. GSDC President Patti Gartland was on hand for this year’s Husky Pitch, her first pitch event. GSDC will have a major new program to announce in the coming weeks to support a robust ecosystem for startups in Greater Minnesota. Stay tuned!
Our State’s Government Resetting Support for Improving Our Innovation Culture with the Minnesota Innovation Collaborative
Beyond the initiatives being taken at the university level, our state government is also prioritizing efforts to create a more robust innovation ecosystem. When it comes to politics, I try to take a non-partisan view and instead focus on the policies and budgets created by lawmakers. With that said, I see as one of the biggest bi-partisan problems in politics is that the many of our government officials lack an understanding of current technology opportunities, issues and trends as noted in the recent federal government hearings with big tech players. This is why the appointment of someone like Steve Grove to his post as Commission of MN DEED is so refreshing and his work bringing forward the new Minnesota Innovation Collaborative. Minnesota ranks very low in terms of the availability of capital to founders seeking to raise angel investment dollars. The Minnesota Innovation Collaborative (MIC) seeks to reinstate Minnesota’s previous tax credit program (https://greatnorthlabs.com/minnesota-innovation-collaborative/) and also provide additional funding support for entrepreneurial education programs. The MIC’s angel tax credit program and new entrepreneurially focused education programs will have a direct impact on the success of our future breakout founders starting high growth companies like Out Café and Remedy Club. I believe constituents of our state should support these efforts as our state’s culture must be more supportive of entrepreneurs if it is to continue to prosper for our future generations.
This past Wednesday, I was invited to Baxter, Minnesota to join a roundtable discussion of leading Central Minnesota entrepreneurs (Janelle Riley, President Syvantis, Tom Haglin, President Lindar Corp, Scott Juranek, CEO Growth Zone) and local economic development leaders to discuss advancing innovation with Governor Tim Walz, Commissioner Steve Grove, and Speaker Melissa Hortman. My favorite quote of the day came from CEO Scott Juranek of Nisswa, Minnesota based Growth Zone. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” on the role leaders have in transforming their communities to foster innovation.
Creating a robust ecosystem to provide capital and mentorship to our region’s future breakout entrepreneurs is key to long term prosperity in our region. I am beyond excited to see this cultural shift happening across public and private leaders to ensure we have a prosperous future for generations to come.