Minnesota saw a big year for initial public offerings in 2020 — and the pace for this year has accelerated because of the strong financing behind both IPOs and special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs).

Minnesota-based companies that have completed the steps to go public include APi Group, Jamf Holding Corp., Trean Insurance Group Inc. in 2020 and Sun Country Airlines, SkyWater Technology and Agiliti Inc. in 2021.

Coming this weekend: The annual listing of the Star Tribune top 50 Minnesota companies.

The trend is national, with 218 companies completing initial public offerings (IPOs) in 2020, raising a total of $78.2 billion, according to Renaissance Capital, which tracks IPOs and created an IPO exchange traded fund.

That was the best year for IPOs since 2014, when 275 companies completed IPOs that raised $85.3 billion.

The pace of IPOs has only accelerated in 2021, with 133 that have priced through May 4, raising $88.1 billion according to Renaissance.

"The amount of capital seeking investment opportunities in growth companies is significant," said David Stadinski, global head of equity capital markets at Minneapolis-based Piper Sandler & Co. "If you are considering taking your company public, it's been a very constructive market, one conducive to capital formation for growth companies."

IPO activity of all sorts paused briefly when the coronavirus pandemic first emerged. The IPO process generally involves roadshows where management gets up in front of institutional investors in order to sell the merits of their company and the IPO offering.

But companies and underwriters adjusted quickly to remote work restrictions.

Jamf Holding Corp., the Minneapolis-based company that helps businesses, schools, hospitals and government agencies connect and manage Apple devices in a cloud platform, went public in July of last year and raised $468 million, one of the largest IPOs ever in Minnesota. It debuted this year at No. 47 on the Star Tribune 50.

The deal was scheduled to go earlier, Jamf Chief Executive Dean Hager said, but was put on hold as the pandemic emerged. When the process resumed, all roadshows — including a six-day stretch with 50 meetings — were virtual.

"It was very, very effective," Hager said.

Even with the economic and work effects of COVID-19 and other challenges, an improving economy toward the end of the year pushed up the number of new IPOs. Federal stimulus and an aggressive infrastructure plan have helped to accelerate the pace of filings to start 2021.

Companies, including Minnesota firms, also are taking alternative routes to publicly traded status. Besides IPOs, some are going public via direct listings and reverse mergers.

Most listings in 2020 and 2021 have come through SPACs, including New Brighton-based API Group and Edina-based Agiliti Inc.

APi Group started trading on the New York Stock Exchange on May 3, 2020, and was the highest debut on the Star Tribune 50 at No. 16. The provider of safety, specialty and industrial services went public through a SPAC.

In fall 2019, APi was acquired by the J2 Acquisition Group for $2.9 billion. It was a public shell company based in the British Virgin Islands created to find a company to acquire. After acquiring APi, J2 completed a domestication move that ended up with registration in Delaware. APi then completed a process to get listed on the NYSE.

When APi Group started trading, Chief Executive Russ Becker called the move "another important step in the ongoing evolution and growth of the company."

"The reach of the NYSE to the investment community will help broaden our base of support and elevate the communication of our long-term value creation targets," Becker said in a news release.

Agiliti Inc., No. 36, also used a SPAC to go public, completing the offering on April 23. The Edina-based provider of medical equipment and service solutions to the health care industry was publicly traded under its former name, Universal Hospital Services, before it was taken private.

Under private-equity ownership the company grew organically and through acquisitions. A plan to go public in 2018 dissolved because of market conditions. This year's offering, though, ended up raising almost $400 million, according to CEO Tom Leonard.

"Our goal in the IPO is to use those proceeds to pay down the debt that is the byproduct of being a private-equity owned company and give us the financial flexibility to support our strategy of opportunistic [mergers and acquisitions] to augment our core organic growth profile," Leonard said.

Renaissance Capital counted 248 companies that went public in 2020 through SPACs. Those companies raised $75.5 billion. So far in 2021, there have been another 312 SPAC public offerings.

SPACs, sometimes called blank-check companies, are formed by big investors looking for private companies to take public through a merger with an existing public shell company they control. The SPAC process has been around for years, but its use has taken off since 2018.

"SPACs have been among the largest areas of issuance in the IPO market over the last several quarters," Stadinski said of the rise in SPAC in usage.

"In our view, SPACs will be a permanent part of the capital market landscape. We don't think SPACs replaces the traditional IPO market, but we do believe they have merit as a credible alternative for certain companies."

Of the Minnesota companies that have gone public in the past year and half, only Bloomington-based SkyWater Technology (No. 53) and Wayzata-based Trean Insurance Group (No. 55) missed the Top 50.

A few local companies also are using alternative exchanges to those in the United States to go public.

Sezzle Inc., a financial-technology company based in Minneapolis, went public on the Australian stock exchange in 2019 rather than domestically. Buy-now-and-pay-later payment plans similar to Sezzle are popular in Australia, and the Minneapolis company was able to draw investment backing for its digital version of installment plan payments easier there.

Now the company is seeking a U.S. listing and could complete an IPO later this summer.

Even with a robust public-offering landscape, the number of public companies in the state are not what they were for many years when there were more than 100.

Regardless of the method Stadinski believes the number of companies seeking public capital will continue.

"The backlog remains robust," Stadinski said.

Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926