Jeff Tollefson, the former venture capitalist, has been named CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA). Tollefson also ran for about a decade the Twin Cities office of Genesys Works, a job-training nonprofit that collaborates with industry.
Tollefson, 57, succeeds Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who resigned after eight years to lead Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Tollefson, through his work with Genesys Works, also served as chief growth officer for the Houston-based nonprofit, and industry liaison.
“MHTA must be a respected thought leader, convener and collaborator driving the success of Minnesota’s innovation economy,” he said. “MHTA is not operating to its full potential and I look forward to working with our board and industry partners to deliver higher levels of member value and community impact. Areas of focus will include building the skilled tech workforce Minnesota companies need for future business success and renewed support of earlier-stage companies and entrepreneurs that are critical to a thriving, innovative tech economy.”
MHTA, through public policy and internships, also is engaged in workforce development for the employee-hungry tech trade.
“Jeff brings excellent experience building, growing and leading organizations, a demonstrated ability to catalyze teams around missions and strategies and great skill in developing and leveraging partnerships,” said Scott Singer, chair of MHTA’s board.
Tollefson at Genesys helped provide pathways to careers for thousands of low-income high school students through skills training and year-long internships. Tollefson credits the early success of the program to connections and credibility that MHTA provided for its Twin Cities launch in 2008. Genesys Works trains and places about 4,000 students annually in several cities.
Twenty years ago, Tollefson was a partner in Crescendo Ventures, with offices in the Twin Cities and Silicon Valley. It raised more than $1 billion from investors and boasted a $1.2 billion “profit” in its portfolio when the tech boom busted in 2001-02. Some of the anticipated seven-figure gains disappeared for partners and investors.
"I had tried not to confuse brains with a bull market and I always thought of myself as fortunate ... to invest in a hot market," a reflective Tollefson recalled in 2012. "It sure seemed like easy pickings.You invest in a little communications company and 18 months later it goes public. It looked like life was going to be set financially. To have it all gone in several months was a shock."
Tollefson spent the next six years performing "triage," shutting down hopeless portfolio companies and continuing to invest in other firms that showed promise. He still made a six-figure salary, thanks to Crescendo's 2 percent management fee.
"I was making money but never feeling like I was earning it," Tollefson said several years ago. "This was a terrible feeling.".
The Genesys job proved a great way to revive his career and work with young people and industry on building a better economy.
The MHTA job paid nearly $240,000 in 2017.