What happens when you take members of a small team of technology and entrepreneurial experts, many of them veterans of Minnesota’s most important industries, and task them with connecting new discoveries at the University of Minnesota with startup company entrepreneurs?

Give them a decade and they will help create 120 new startup companies that survive and thrive at a rate well above industry averages.

It’s an underreported story of business creation within our local high-tech ecosystem, one that I’ve witnessed as an adviser to the U’s Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC) and its affiliated Venture Center.

Nearly 80 percent of the 120 startup companies they have launched since 2006 remain active and have attracted $400 million in outside private investment.

These new companies reflect the strength of the U’s research enterprise in medical devices, pharmaceuticals, chemistry and material sciences, renewable energy, food and software applications.

They are helping to shape the Minnesota business environment (four out of every five of these startups have been Minnesota-based) and creating new technology strengths for our local economy, such as in genomics and gene editing and green materials.

But a promising technology’s journey from invention to the medicine cabinet, to the kitchen or to the factory floor is not guaranteed. You need people with technical knowledge as well as industry connections to spot a researcher’s good idea, find a market need, identify talent that can build a company and connect the idea with the capital needed to move from pilot to production.

As a part of OTC’s advisory board, I have seen how their staff match talented U scientists with entrepreneurs who can create successful startups. OTC and the Venture Center also draw on the expertise of a business advisory group made up of hundreds of local industry leaders who invest their time and talent to advise and assist startups for success.

There’s been a lot of good news to share about U startups in the last few months. We have seen Calyxt, a plant genomics startup, make an initial public offering (IPO), while the Venture Center’s first startup, Medication Management Systems, formed in 2006, was acquired by pharmacy company Genoa.

We also saw GEN, a biotech trade publication, profile Minnesota as the “North Star” for genome engineering, highlighting U-developed technologies and startups. Given the level of investor interest and the sheer number of these startups that are still active, I believe we are going to see indicators of success like these become even more common in the coming years.

Most of us know the U’s impact on our economy through co-workers, friends and families who have graduated or been trained there; increasingly, we’re seeing the U’s strong positive impact on our region, particularly in its high-tech sector, through the innovations it creates.

If you are an entrepreneur seeking a new idea solution to a technology problem, I encourage you to visit z.umn.edu/techcomm to find out about technology and growth opportunities available at the U.


Warren Watson is a medical device industry consultant and former vice president of Medtronic.