Minnesota is an innovation-driven state. We enjoy our current quality of life because of the past and ongoing efforts of our fellow citizens to harness creativity, work hard and build things that make a lasting difference - food tech, life science, information tech, clean/green tech, education tech and the list goes on. Here a few recent and upcoming MN innovation highlights that are a reminder of our robust technology and entrepreneurship scene.
Minnesota Cup Awards - September 6
The Minnesota Cup is our state's biggest business plan competition, with over 1,000 entrants and six divisions. The year-long process, sponsored by the University of Minnesota and the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, ends with an awards presentation at the McNamara Center. This year's award ceremony, held just a few weeks ago, brought to the fore six great new companies innovating in completely different spaces.
The top prize went to PreciousStatus (also High Tech division winner), which has built a system to let medical caregivers provide families with short, real-time health updates on loved ones. The Division winners show the diversity of our economy: Envirolastech (Cleantech; thermoelastic wood replacement); Orthocor (Bioscience; electromagnetic knee pain relief); LifeFloor (General; slip-resistant flooring); Cognific (Student; web-based mental health engagement tools and therapies); Tuloko (Social Entrepreneur; social network/business directory focused on black-owned businesses).
The U's Office of Technology Commercialization and Venture Center work to locate, license and commercialize U-based technologies. The Venture Center focuses on developing and spinning out startups into the local economy. In FY12, the Venture Center hit an all-time high 12 startup spinouts. 12 in 12 is a great accomplishment. Keep your eyes open for this U tech in the local economy, creating high-quality jobs and enriching our innovation ecosystem.
EduTech Conference (TiE Minnesota) - October 8
This is the second year of the annual education technology conference hosted by TiE Minnesota. Education technology has been important part of the IT economy here in Minnesota for the past three decades and is a high-profile growth area nationally. Among the local successes was the original Oregon Trail software. There are many new education tech startups coming into the local market, which creates great possibilities to align tech innovation, job growth and the manifold challenges of modern education.
MN Venture Conference - October 13
Led by The Collaborative and the MN Venture Capital Assn, the Venture Conference provides 2 days of capital- and startup- focused networking, education and business pitches. Direct startup investments come out of this conference, which has been happening yearly since 1987. Thanks to Dan Carr and team for helping to maintain startup investment fervor.
Cleantech Open - N. Central Region Innovation Expo and Awards - October 18
The Cleantech Open is a national accelerator and competition that identifies and supports great new clean and green technology companies. The Twin Cities is the site of the North Central Region's Innovation Expo and Awards. Winners get to move on to the national competition, with support resources and a chance at a $250,000 grand prize.
U. of St. Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship - Fowler Business Concept Challenge Awards - October 19
This business plan competition hosted by the University of St. Thomas challenges undergrads and graduate students to "develop a business concept that has the potential to become a viable high-growth business." The competition promotes entrepreneurship on campus and provides more than $35,000 in scholarships (including $10K each to the undergrad and grad division winners). Alum and entrepeneur Ron Fowler ('66) endowed the Challenge, which generates high quality business concepts every year.
Upcoming later this year:
MHTA Tekne Awards - November 1 - honoring MN's technology and innovation leaders, large and small
Startup Weekend Twin Cites - November 2 - 48 hours to pick a technology, research, develop and present it - startup mayhem!
MOJO Startup School - November 13 - schooling policy leaders on the entrepreneurial pathway (details shortly)
For other startup events and news, check out MOJO Minnesota, an innovation co-op working to energize Minnesota's entrepreneurial ecosystem.
2012 is going to be an amazing year for Minnesota startups, both in idea generation and funding. Lots of industries are in disruption mode, and you can be part of the story.
Here are a few entrepreneurial items to consider/ponder as the temperature outside drops to absolute zero:
MN Angel Tax Credit – Time to Renew: Another funding essential. If you’re a Minnesota startup looking to raise angel money, get certified so your investors can get their credit. If you were approved in 2011, you need to re-up. Here’s the link(now go fill out!). Don’t forget – you need approval, your investor needs approval and your deal needs approval.
A New Angel Investor Group – Gopher Angels: We need more angel investors in MN, and Gopher Angels is looking to grow the pie. Read a summary here and find Gopher Angels on GUST here. If you’re in startup fundraising mode, make sure you have a GUST profile and share with the Gopher Angels.
SOPA/PIPA - Bad; not good. While I strongly support IP rights, these proposed laws go too far and would interfere with basic operation of websites and the internet. Over-correction to the max. And this will impact negatively on MN's high tech economy. So, contact your federal representative/senators and let them know what you think.
U of M’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) – Rocking into 2012 – Great stuff happening at the OTC’s Venture Center. Jay Schrankler and his team have dramatically increased the velocity of on-campus startup development. Read up here about some of the new technologies rolling into commercialization (from today’s Tech Showcase at UEL).
A few events of note:
Feb 8 – MN 2012 Entrepreneur Kick-Off – hosted by TiE MN, MN Cup, MOJO and others. Details here.
Feb 10-12 – Startup Weekend Twin Cities – great weekend where teams go from concept to business pitch. Details here.
Enjoy the freeze and keep the idea juices flowing.
Ernest Grumbles, Co-founder, MOJO Minnesota
Business and government, time to friendly up and have honest discussions about the critical role that each plays in our common peace and prosperity and how to achieve outcomes efficiently and collaboratively.
The public sector has a critical role in helping to promote tech innovation and entrepreneurship. If communities (and their elected leaders) want high-value job growth, then help the startup companies that grow those jobs. With transitions afoot at the state and federal levels, here are a few questions for the newly-elected as well as those continuing in elected office. We need answers!
(a) Do you know any entrepreneurs? These are the folks creating the high-growth jobs. Do you know any? Not just the wildly-successful who are established players. But the college kids growing green tech out of the U. Or the design engineers leaving day jobs to build medical devices. You'll need their support when they're wildly successful. They need your help now.
(b) How many startups are in your district? They're out there. And they're going to put your district or region on the map - if you give them a chance. If you can't answer this question, let's talk.
(c) How does your job affect new business development? Yes, contrary to popular opinion, government has a vital role in supporting new enterprise. While if managed poorly, government can be a barrier, that's true of many community assets, people, organizations that could be otherwise optimized to help tech growth. Think about this everyday - how is what I'm doing helping building tech innovation and job growth?
(d) Name three features of a strong innovation economy. These are the signposts - what to look for and what to create (if you're having to look too hard). Here are a few: (1) good access to early-stage risk capital; (2) world-class research facilities; (3) a culture that understands risk and can manage it with zeal; (4) successful entrepreneurs giving back; (5) a willingness to market the amazing things already there. Keep adding to this list. It's just a start.
(e) What will you do to drive innovation and job growth in Minnesota? These are the specific things you will do - whether reaching out to startups to hear their needs, supporting tech- and innovation-friendly bills and/or administrative policies or putting the spotlight on the amazing companies in your district already off the launchpad.