2010 was an amazing year for startup action and activism in Minnesota. The community is coming together in recognition that the innovation economy can’t be grown through luck or grand schemes – but from real digging in the Minnesota soil. This means a macro/micro focus – improving the overall ecosystem for new technology and business launch and engaging directly with startups.
Here are just a few 2010 highlights (in no particular order) that are keeping Minnesota on the front burner:
(a) Tax Credits - Angel Investor/R&D
The 10-year wait is over – Minnesota got an angel tax credit. And none too soon. With our friendly neighbors friendlying up to our local tech community with siren songs of support and subsidies, the Gov and Legislature hunkered down and got us not just a robust angel tax credit - but a generously expanded R&D tax credit (10% of the first $2 million in R&D expenses over base expense). And the R&D tax credit is fully refundable, which is great benefit for early-stage companies.
(b) MN Science & Technology Authority (STA)
Another bipartisan gift from the Governor and Legislature. The STA, overseen by the Commissioners of DEED, Revenue, Management & Budget, Commerce and Agriculture, supported by a blue-ribbon Advisory Commission of business and tech leaders and headed by Executive Director Betsy Lulfs, is developing a lead role in state-level technology and innovation policy. On the drawing board – a possible state-level venture program, startup mentoring and other programs. Keep an eye on the STA and support ED Betsy Lulfs’ budget ask at the Legislature this winter/spring. The STA will be an energetic force to push Minnesota tech and emerging business leadership.
(c) Project Skyway
Project Skyway, a community-powered startup accelerator, came out of the box this past fall and is roaring toward an April initial application process. Founder Cem Erdem (the CEO/founder of Augusoft), is bent on launching startups with lasting power – and he’s putting his own hard-fought green behind it. Rock on, Cem. Other incubators and accelerators are coming down the pipeline. Stay tuned.
(d) Startup Weekend
The worldwide startup lost weekend came to the Twin Cities this past September and filled CoCo MSP with 100+ brainstorming/non-sleeping folks. The crowd, big as typical Manhattan events, energized national leadership so much that they included the Twin Cities in the Global Startup Battle just a few months later. Keep an eye out for SUW winners Qonqr, Dueling Dates, Rock Your Block, What I Want for Christmas, Heavy Analytics, Sign Universal and others for success in 2011.
(e) Startup Media
Minnesota is now blessed with four media sources with a significant focus on startup technology and business development – Tech.MN, MedCityNews and The Line, joining longtime web tech stalwart Minnov8 as well as other business media sources (StarTribune; Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal; Minnesota Business; Twin Cities Business). In other words, the startup scene matters, and not just because new technology is fun to learn about. Startups are where the new jobs are going to come from and if we don’t have information about them, we can hardly support them. So, hats off to these newer media sources. Business journalism is alive and well in Minnesota.
(f) The OTC Opens The Cupboard
Schrankler, Johnson, Straate and Porter – the four horsemen of U tech transfer – cranked up the fire. In the 2008/2009 time period, the Office of Technology Commercialization (Venture Center) spun out just 5 startups. But the vault unlocked in last 12 months. In 2010 alone, the U spun out 8 startups and has several more in the pipeline. With on-campus startup training for professors, the U is working to aggressively push new tech out into the community.
The coastal trend hit the Land of Lakes. We now have co-working and collaborative workspaces in both Minneapolis and St. Paul and developing sites in neighboring suburbs. I’ve personally spent time at both CoCo MSP and Third Place and greatly enjoy the camaraderie and open work atmosphere. In the new economic world where cost efficiency and collaboration matter more than ever, these places are leading the charge.
(h) Community Action
What is the gift of place? What are the unique things a place contributes, whether to arts, science, business or dialogue? I say one of the most important things Minnesota contributes is a sense of community purpose – from the ground up. Lots of places talk community-building – Minnesota lives it. Maybe it’s frontier common sense, from living in a place that required joint action for joint survival. Maybe it’s the community-oriented values of immigrant communities of past and present. Whatever the cause, a community focus allows for community action. This has led to Minnesota’s high work ethic and high quality of life. We expect our schools and communities to succeed because we are in there making it happen.
This community focus helps the startup community as well. There are now lots of opportunities – groups, places, events - for startups to connect with fellow entrepreneurs as well as investors, supporters and policymakers. An incomplete list includes: Minnesota Cup, MinneBar/Demo, MOJO Minnesota (my org.), MHTA, BioBusiness Alliance/LifeScience Alley, The Collaborative, BizLounge, JJ Hill, Holmes Center, Club Entrepreneur, Mobile Twin Cities, Social Media Breakfast, TiE, Bootstrappers’ Breakfast, RainSource Capital and others. Each of these provides its own special gift to the startup community and works for common purpose.
Bottom Line 2010: Minnesota has been a great place to build new technologies and new enterprise, and with momentum like 2010, we’re going to keep up the tradition.
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