Tech startup culture has been stirring and churning in the Twin Cities for a few years now, and it’s poised to take off – but it won’t get off the ground without investment into good ideas and smart people.
In 2006, MinneBar started as an ‘unconference’ focused on early-stage startups, open source technology, and a variety of community-driven discussion topics. Since then, it’s grown in popularity and has been split out into multiple events, including one just for early stage startups and another just for product demonstrations.
Co-working spaces are big in Silicon Valley, but they’re big in the Twin Cities too: not only are they a good place to get work done, they’re great for networking and often host startup workshops. There’s CoCo in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, The 3rd Place in Saint Paul, and more on the way.
A couple months ago, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak hosted a roundtable discussion with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and local small business owners at CoCo’s new location, and according to the Downtown Journal:
“Schmidt offered his take on the city’s efforts to nurture its startup community and encourage entrepreneurship in new technologies among immigrant communities. He praised Rybak’s role in bringing CoCo to the city and noted that cities need to support environments with a ‘coolness’ factor, ‘coffee’ and ‘connectivity’ to encourage innovation and creativity.”
Minneapolis has no problem with coolness, coffee, or connectivity, among other things. It has a good amount of coolness (and quirkiness) for being a Midwestern city, with plenty of historical buildings and interesting architecture, good transit and accessibility in general, and lots of great food. Cafés are everywhere in Minneapolis, and in all combinations. If you want a diner with trashy food, a tea shop, or a punk restaurant, all can be found with outlets and wi-fi ready to go.
Minnov8 was “…born out of a frustration that there wasn’t a showcase for the talent, brainpower, creativity, and innovation that exists in [Minnesota]…” They have a blog, a podcast and coverage of new Minnesota startups.
Startup Weekend has been in the Twin Cities a couple of times, including an event coming up in February, where teams create a web or mobile application over the course of a 54-hour weekend. Which brings me to the topic of hackathons.
There’s a ‘Dot MN’ thing going on too. Sometime around 2007, Mongolia opened up registrations for their .MN ccTLD to anyone without the necessity of having a Mongolian business presence. Tech.mn is a tech blog and aggregator, Minnesota attorney Sam Glover runs StartupLawyer.mn, and many notable locals run blogs on .MN domains.
Interactive agency The Nerdery is based in Bloomington, just south of the Twin Cities, and in 2008 they created the Overnight Website Challenge, a 24-hour hackathon. Teams of up to ten web pros stay up all night to plan, design, develop and launch sites for non-profit groups. I’ve participated twice, launching Clownfish Swim Club and Crossroads Adoption Services. This is probably the first instance of anything resembling a big hackathon in the Twin Cities, even if it’s not startup-related. The Nerdery also hosts the Minneapolis-St. Paul WordPress User Group.
And then there’s Project Skyway, dubbed “Minnesota’s first tech accelerator,” with an impressive list of mentors and a first class to be announced any day now.
Inc. article ‘Confessions from a Silicon Prairie Startup Founder’ documents the journey of a Minnesota founder who spent six years in New York before moving back to Minnesota to launch Nitch, a B2B social platform. The founder says, “Good ideas will always work and get funded. I just think they’ll happen more slowly in places outside of the Valley.”
If you’re still not convinced that there’s a startup culture sprouting in Minneapolis, Minnesota has an Angel Tax Credit that provides incentives to investors that put money into startups and emerging companies focused on technology. Funding for years 2012-2014 is set at $12 million per year, and the tax credit is refundable, non-Minnesota residents are eligible, and gives a single investor a maximum credit of $125,000. Seriously.
But here’s the thing: none of this matters if there aren’t local venture capitalists willing to make bold investments, and to do so fairly and imminently. It will be devastating to Minnesota’s economy if technologists and entrepreneurs move away because investors won’t touch the frozen tundra.