Twin Cities businessmen Seth Peter, Ben Rasmussen and Scott Aubitz all had high-flying corporate or entrepreneurial ventures with well-known companies such as NetSpi and Bright Health.
The flexible lifestyle their most recent business chapter allows them is irreplaceable, they said.
The men, in their 40s and 50s, get to mentor and support the next generation of Minnesota entrepreneurs filled with more family time, without constant travel or long nights at the office.
In 2019, they founded Twin Ignition Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in locally based startups. They also run the affiliated Twin Ignition Startup Garage, a 6,000-square-foot office building on Marshall Avenue in Minneapolis' Northeast Arts District that Peter acquired in 2017.
"We've created a situation here, really a business, where we get to do the things we enjoy most in life," said Rasmussen, from Fridley. "It is most fulfilling, and our commitment is to each other and to [entrepreneurs]. It feels pretty good."
The move has reinvigorated a desire to change their hometown for the better, they said. Their goal is to invest and mentor companies that would collectively create 100,000 jobs across the Twin Cities in the next 20 years.
Rasmussen, 51, is from Fridley. Peter, 48, and Aubitz, 47, are from Bloomington.
Through the venture fund, investments between from $25,000 to $100,000 are made in startups. Since its inception, the fund has invested in roughly 20 startups. TurnSignl, and customer retention software maker ProsperStack are both recipients and are headquartered in the Twin Ignition Startup Garage.
Once a furniture restoration and auto garage in the 1920s, the Twin Ignition Startup Garage serves as a co-working and incubator space and art studio for entrepreneurs. Beta, the nonprofit that operates Twin Cities Startup Week and an accelerator program, and first-check venture investment firm Groove Capital, of which the three businessmen are limited investment partners, are also tenants.
Peter, from Bloomington, bought the building with proceeds from the exit of his cybersecurity company, NetSpi, to a private equity firm in 2017.
Peter renamed the building Twin Ignition, after an old Star Tribune print advertisement he found in the building. The ad, placed by Nash Motor Cos., a former Kenosha, Wis., automobile maker, promoted a new twin-ignition motor engine.
"Doing something different was important to me," Peter said. "The building was a good transition project. It let me be hands-on."
In the literal sense, Peter made a majority of the wooden furniture currently used in the office, from desks and benches to wall panels and light fixtures.
In summer 2018, almost a year into redeveloping the site, Peter met Rasmussen, a former executive with Adobe and McAfee Corp. in Silicon Valley. Rasmussen had also established a business incubator in Minneapolis, within a rented space inside a building at 219 N. 2nd Street.
One of the tenants there was health insurer Bright Health, which earlier this year raised $924 million in the largest-ever initial public stock offering by a Minnesota company. Rasmussen was chief experience officer at Bright Health between 2016 and 2018, helping the company build its digital and services platform.
Aubitz — a Bloomington investment banking and finance veteran whose resume includes stops at Thomson Reuters and Target Corp. — also worked with startups as an executive adviser.
Not long after meeting Peter, Rasmussen struck up a conversation with Aubitz at one of their sons' hockey games, where they discussed their professional careers. Rasmussen eventually invited Aubitz to a coffee meeting he and Peter were having.
For a year and a half — while Twin Ignition Startup Garage was under construction — Peter, Rasmussen and Aubitz met every Wednesday at Sip Coffeebar in Minneapolis to talk with entrepreneurs about potential investment deals they would do independently from each other.
They quickly learned that working together, as opposed to working in a silo, was simpler and more efficient.
"What we've realized is we bring different skill sets," Aubitz said. "Ben's got the vision and he's our positive guy. He's the eternal optimist, which is what we need. I'm the guy that's going to climb into the numbers more and look into the financials. Seth's got the technology background and some of the creative pieces."
In late 2019, the trio moved forward and launched Twin Ignition Ventures, and that December, the first tenants moved into Twin Ignition Startup Garage. The idea was to incubate early-stage companies that received their investment in the Startup Garage.
By early 2020, Twin Ignition Startup Garage had two tenants. The plan was to sign more, but entrepreneurs began working from home because of the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, the building sat nearly empty for months.
Beta moved into the Startup Garage in January 2021, bringing several entrepreneurs along. Twin Ignition is a resource sponsor of Beta, and startups participating in the Beta accelerator receive desk space and access to amenities in the Startup Garage building.
Close to 90% of companies that Twin Ignition Ventures has invested in are Beta graduates, Rasmussen said.
Casey Shultz, Beta's executive director, said the building offers an opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors to work and collaborate in a close-knit environment that she didn't find in some of the larger co-working spaces in the Twin Cities.
"There's definitely a palpable energy and excitement, because everybody is working on their company," Shultz said. "It's a very energizing experience."
Twin Ignition Startup Garage is at capacity, Peter said. That capacity includes saving room for future cohorts of the Beta accelerator.
Peter, Rasmussen and Aubitz are now actively searching for another co-working and incubator space in the Twin Cities, preferably near the Startup Garage. It would serve startups a little past the incubation stage and support entrepreneurs who are no longer working solo but have the ability to hire a few employees.
Peter started NetSpi in 2001, at a time where "there wasn't much help for startups," in the Twin Cities, he said. NetSpi now has more than 200 employees and earlier this year raised $90 million from new investors.
Through Twin Ignition, Peter, Rasmussen and Aubitz hope to spare younger entrepreneurs from walking the tough road alone.
"At almost every step, we've walked a mile in their shoes," Rasmussen said.