CEO Margaret Anderson Kelliher of the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) has a busy month ahead for her organization. Last week, MHTA hosted the Minnesota Venture Conference, which introduces some of the state’s fledgling tech companies and gathers industry technologists, financiers and leaders. On Nov. 29, MHTA hosts its annual “Tekne” awards program that showcases several dozen small and large companies and recent achievements. A former legislator who was elected a two-term speaker of the Minnesota House by her colleagues, Kelliher, who grew up on a southern Minnesota farm, guided passage of the state’s landmark renewable-energy legislation in 2006-2007, helped build a broad business-labor coalition to enact a major transportation-funding bill and championed the Minnesota’s Angel Investment Tax Credit bill. A Minneapolis resident, Kelliher graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College and earned a master’s degree from Harvard University. This piece was edited from submitted responses.
Q: What is the status of Minnesota’s emerging technology economy and what are the hot growth areas?
A: Our emerging tech economy is evolving. National surveys continue to rate Minneapolis-St. Paul as a top location for technology startups. We continue to see innovation in areas such as medical technology, as well as growth in sectors with a consumer and business-to-business focus — retail, fin-tech and health IT. We also have companies doing great work in AI/data analytics and cybersecurity. The Minnesota Venture Conference last week showed that range of innovators, with startups, investors and experts from across the Midwest.
Q: How far have we come since the Great Recession of 2008-2009?
A: Minnesota has come a long way, with unemployment dropping from 8 percent in 2009 to under 3 percent this fall. There’s nearly zero-percent unemployment in our technology industry. The internet and healthcare sectors are two strong points in Minnesota’s established businesses and entrepreneur ecosystem. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s venture capital investments have remained relatively flat since the burst of the dot-com bubble.
Q: What is the Minnesota High Tech Association doing to support the state’s innovation economy?
A: We are reaching more science, technology and advanced manufacturing companies than ever through our programs. More than 3,000 have attended MHTA’s 44 events in 2018. Each year thousands of science and technology professionals build their companies and organizations [with] MHTA programs. Minnesota is No. 7 on the Milken Institute’s State Technology & Science Index. And Minneapolis was ranked the third-best city for start-ups and entrepreneurs behind only San Francisco and Austin, Texas, according to the Kaufman [Foundation’s] growth-entrepreneurship index.
Q: Do we have weak spots or disappointments?
A: Minnesota gets high rankings for our tech workforce but, like many states, we face a skilled-workforce shortage. We need to continue to grow our world-class, educated workforce to meet current and future demands.
We also need to ensure that our startups have the resources they need to grow and thrive here. One of the biggest disappointments is that the Angel Investment Tax Credit wasn’t renewed during the 2018 legislative session. This important credit provided investors a strong incentive to invest in Minnesota-based technology startups. Without this credit, we risk losing some of that investment and growth opportunities to other states.
Q: Is MHTA’s membership and support growing?
A: Our membership has remained relatively stable, but we are reaching more science, technology and advanced manufacturing companies than ever through our programs. The SciTechsperience STEM Internship Program and SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research program (MN-SBIR), which serve member and nonmember companies, have grown. Since 2012, SciTechsperience has placed some 1,300 interns at more than 400 small STEM-based companies across Minnesota. Our MN-SBIR director last year helped Minnesota startups land about $10 million in federal R&D seed funding, which doesn’t dilute capital from a startup.
Q: What needs to happen next?
A: We need policymakers and business leaders to have technology top of mind because of its increasingly important role in our lives. Taking advantage of technology’s potential presents opportunities for economic growth. That’s why policymakers and business leaders need to work together to encourage companies to form, grow and thrive here and develop, attract and retain a skilled workforce. Minnesota is home to some of the greatest science and technology companies on this planet. We should look to the past boom of great Minnesota companies as a guide.
Q: Anything else?
A: Minnesota has a strong economy and a particularly robust science and technology economy. To continue to expand through technology, our business leaders and entrepreneurs must have access to capital and resources, from financial investments to talented STEM workers. These are critically important challenges for the next governor, legislators and the future of Minnesota’s growth.