Project Skyway: A leg up for tech start-ups

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By Wendy Lee, Star Tribune

“When former hotel manager Cem Erdem launched his first business 16 years ago, he had little help and few ideas on how to start.  He’d seen a lot of people in suits walking along the Minneapolis skyway. So, looking to sell Internet services, he decided to pass out postcards to successful-looking people as they walked past.

For the most part, he said, it didn’t work.  Now, the CEO of Golden Valley-based software firm Augusoft Inc. is setting up a business accelerator program to help aspiring software entrepreneurs avoid his mistakes. He calls it Project Skyway.”

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  • http://twitter.com/kaufenjm Justin Kaufenberg

    No incubators for years and now I can count 5 starting. Hope we don't go too far the other way and have too wide a footprint where no one group really gains traction. A incubator itself gaining traction is more important then the companies themselves.

    Was out in Boston a couple weeks ago, met with the Tech Stars crew….hate to say it, but I'm not sure if an incubator will succeed in MN yet without a name brand. Take a walk through their mentor list some time. Big time players. Takes a very, very serious amount of juice in the capital community to really consistently get these companies funded to the next level.

    Whatever happens – good on Cem.

    • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

      Five? That is interesting…I know of 2.5 – and that's counting the amorphous JJ Hill situation (read: not tech).

      “Hope we don't go too far the other way and have too wide a footprint where no one group really gains traction.” Personally, I would encourage energies to align with Project Skyway and see things through the 1st year. Although there is room for variations and more opportunities for entrepreneurs/startups is generally better, this is the closest chance we've got to date.

      “A incubator itself gaining traction is more important then the companies themselves…hate to say it, but I'm not sure if an incubator will succeed in MN yet without a name brand.” I can see where you're coming from, but do respectfully disagree that a Minnesota incubator needs name brand to succeed (of course it depends on how success is defined). There's plenty of local talent and ambition waiting for a proximity resource like PS. It will require sacrifice, varying levels of community collaboration and challenge the intentionality of many – but the ingredients to succeed exist, I believe.

      But no question there are real threats posed by other incubators around the country that are through and through better environments. Minnesota has its work cut out for it in this sense, amongst others…

    • http://card.ly/stalkcasey Casey Allen

      *Disclosure*: I'm part of the Project Skyway team and have been since day one. I'm pumped to help bring it to life and make it awesome.

      @Justin: I find my self lamenting at times that we don't have any national stars, especially B2C, but then I meet an entrepreneur who's just getting started. Maybe they just moved to the area. Maybe they work at Accenture and don't know anyone remotely entrepreneurial. Maybe they're cranking away at the U bursting with uninformed optimism.

      For 93% of the entrepreneurs in the upper midwest I think being surrounded by people who have “done it” and are willing to help is a fantasy come true. I think it's easy to take our networks for granted. You may know plenty of people who have “done it” but don't think of them as rockstars, rather you think of them as friends. Probably 2/3 of PS's mentors will be serials and 1/5 will have exit notches on their belts.

      As for other programs in the immediate area it's still a net win. Every market needs a St. Thomas, a Rasmussen, and a Hennepin Tech. Different strokes, right?

      Appreciate the thoughts. When we bring you in to talk to the startups what do you want to talk about? =)

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