Aneela Idnani Kumar was on a roll at last year’s Twin Cities Startup Week.
The marketer-turned-entrepreneur won awards in two competitions for launching, with her husband and two other founders, HabitAware, which grew out of her eyebrow-picking compulsion. And it has turned into a fast-growing health and business venture based on a technology that has benefited thousands who pull hair, pluck eyebrows, bite nails or other compulsive behavior that can become debilitating and deteriorate mental health.
“We’re doing good work and helping people and shattering the mental-health stigma,” Kumar said last week. “There is a customer need. We’re talking to people, including in the startup community, to our friends, hairdressers and whomever.”
HabitAware has raised about $600,000 in equity capital from founders, family, friends and for being the winner of last year’s Minnesota Cup and Meda minority-entrepreneur competition during Startup Week. And she’s back, as we hit the midpoint of this year’s Wednesday-through-Wednesday run of dozens of Startup Week events.
“Startup Week is about building connections and building relationships,” Kumar said. “I felt welcomed and enjoyed participating. There’s a good support. Since the Meda and MN Cup win, we’re focused on growing the company.”
Six-year-old Startup Week, including Minnesota Cup, criticized somewhat in the past for being too male and white, significantly diversified last year. And it wasn’t just Kumar, the daughter of Indian immigrants.
Gender and racial diversity flowed through many Startup Week events last week that celebrated, examined and showcased fledgling businesses, including last Friday’s Meda Million Dollar Challenge for Minority Entrepreneurs to the 40-event Blacks in Technology conference that concluded Saturday.
StartupWeek broadens this week to include more from outstate Minnesota, said Reed Robinson of Beta.MN, organizer of Startup events designed to draw attention, people and capital to small companies in the region.
Today’s scheduled events are strung along the LRT Green Line from downtown St. Paul in the morning to the University of Minnesota. It starts with a presentation by Launch Minnesota (launchMinnesota.org), the statewide initiative to collaborate with rural startups, business organizations and state resources to promote outstate fledgling entrepreneurs.
“We’re trying to simplify the journey for [outstate] startups,” said Neela Mollgaard, the executive director of Launch Minnesota recently hired by Steve Grove, CEO of Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
“I think Startup Week will help Launch Minnesota build on our strong assets in Minnesota to utilize events we already have and elevate that success,” Mollgaard said.
Mollgaard, a business and nonprofit veteran, also is a founder of Red Wing Ignite, a regional initiative and competition that forges partnerships with colleges, business, government and investors to build a support network for the budding entrepreneurs that Startup Week seeks to elevate statewide.
Monday’s events between St. Paul and the U include forums such as Innovation in Regenerative Agriculture, Farmers and the Future of Farming, Revitalizing the North American Indigenous Foods System and, at 5 p.m., “The Greater Minnesota Meetup” at TCF Bank Stadium.
Following that will be a showcase of 10 tech startups from Greater Minnesota. The names include Equiscribe, Harvest Nation, Rovor Robotics, Thaddeus Medical Systems and Zen Lord Pro.
“A challenge in greater Minnesota is there are people with the right ideas but they require more speed of execution,” said Ryan Weber, a successful St. Cloud-based entrepreneur, who with his brother, Rob, started Great North Labs in 2017.
The Weber brothers, who had made 25 individual angel investments before they opened the fund, also were key advisers to Startup Week on its outstate initiative.
Their venture capital fund has made 16 investments, averaging about $265,000 apiece.
“Sometimes the opportunity to get connected to a network can help a startup accelerate,” Ryan Weber said. “We’ve reached out to leaders across Minnesota and it resonated. We need to put some of them on the big stage.
“This is a great opportunity for investors as well. The Twin Cities, by working collaboratively, can help create an incredible benefit for greater Minnesota startups. In the past we haven’t done a great job of bringing the best of Minnesota. It shows momentum.”
For example, Weber points to a St. Cloud startup of a decade ago, Food Dudes Delivery. Even though he was in St. Cloud, Weber didn’t hear about Food Dudes until 2017, eight years after its founding.
“I should have known,” Weber said. “I was an active angel investor with a lot of experience working with mobile apps. Grub Hub of Chicago had the same idea, Bite Squad in the Twin Cities.
“The founder, David Carlson, grew the business on his own dollar in smaller markets. He’s done fairly well. But he could have done better faster [with more resources]. And that market has become saturated.
“He felt going it alone was the only opportunity he had. Now we’re collaborating on other ideas,” Weber said, adding that Carlson is now a Great North Labs adviser.
Said Robinson: “We want fewer examples of that. We need to find more entrepreneurs in their basement who have fewer opportunities for networking. We’re focusing on that this week.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.