The Takeaways of Starting and Growing in Greater Minnesota (Part 3 of 3)

by Rob Weber

Many of my closest friends in the Twin Cities metro tech community ask me for my perspective of what it is like to build a tech business in greater Minnesota.

Founding W3i eleven years ago in St. Cloud has certainly had its advantages and disadvantages.  Rather than answering this question solely based on my experiences alone, I interviewed several other greater Minnesota tech entrepreneurs for their feedback on this subject.

With so much thoughtful input, I decided to answer this question in a three post series: the first examined the advantages, followed by the disadvantages, and this last installment is about different takeaways for both the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota tech communities to consider.

Part III: The takeaways of starting and growing a tech company in greater Minnesota.

Greater Minnesota needs more face to face interactions and technology showcasing.

In recent years, the Minneapolis – St.Paul tech community has seen a significant increase in the number conferences, user groups and tech meetups.  A few people from outside the cities regularly attend Twin Cities-based tech gatherings, but most do not. This may be caused by lack of awareness or logistics, but one way to strengthen other cities (specifically – Rochester, St.Cloud and Duluth) would be to host more P2P tech gatherings.

There are two clear approaches to this:

1) If you live, work or otherwise care about raising the level of tech activity in your area —  organize a local meet up or special interest user group.  The possibilities here are endless and starting a group doesn’t have to be formal, risky or expensive; you can piggyback or create your own. There are plenty of quick and free ways to create an online presence and start organizing/connecting like minded people.

For example, W3i hosts a monthly gathering called Mobile St. Cloud on the first Thursday of each month, which typically draws between 25 and 50 to hear a mix of speakers and topics.  A St.Cloud .Net User Group has also been getting off the ground over the past few months.
In Rochester, Zack Garbow has organized a monthly tech meetup called “For Starters.”   Once a month 10-20 people gather at a local bar to informally discuss technology, startups, and current business activities. Attendees are primarily startup founders and technologists who may work for a larger company, but are interested in startups and entrepreneurship.

2) Twin Cities-based groups and organizations may consider expanding or otherwise leveraging a networked effect.  Moving or franchising tech events to greater Minnesota communities would provide a means to reach more, grow membership base and ultimately help the collective Minnesota tech cause.

Minne* will be experimenting with this approach, having announced at their latest MinneDemo event in Minneapolis that the next MinneDemo would be held in St. Cloud on April 12, 2011 (more details to follow).  Last year, the Minnesota Cup expanded their scope of brand when they commenced a collaboration with the Arrowhead Growth Alliance in NE Minnesota.

For regular events in the Twin Cities, providing thorough event coverage, live streams and video archiving is always a helpful in building awareness for those who are seeking more insights. Bruce Hagberg, CEO at RTE/riteSOFT), would like to see a “best of breed” information exchange for Minnesota tech companies with common ground.

Greater Minnesota needs more attention and support from the Twin Cities tech community, including angel investors and policy makers.

There’s a great opportunity here to bring more high tech business to areas outside of the Twin Cities, and real benefits to back it up.   With all the discussions of economic development and innovation initiatives, other cities deserve a seat at the table — but the burden is on them to initiate engagement.

“Minnesota needs to get back to its roots as a State of opportunity, entrepreneurship and innovation. This starts with the State of Minnesota making it easier to do business here (less regulation, less tax, better incentives and better access to State funds) and the local Angel’s stepping up to the plate (without money nothing happens). This State has lived off the entrepreneurial success from companies like Medtronic, 3M, United Healthcare, Target, Cargill, and General Mills that employ thousands of tax paying Minnesotans. We need some new successes like we have seen from Phil Soran at Compellent and Joel Ronning at Digital River. That can only happen if Angel Investors open up and the State understands the value of reinvesting in start-ups.  Silicon Valley thrives because they take chances, kinds of chances we are not taking here,” comments Daren Klum, CEO and Founder of CRAM Worldwide.

Greater Minnesota needs to get the word out more effectively about what’s happening (or not) in their respective geographies.

Efforts in the aspect of media, PR and communications will help to create more consistent awareness of the “ground level” situation — both the good and the bad.  Establishing relationships with local media to ensure that high tech coverage and dialogue becomes a regular topic is the first step to ensuring industry visibility amongst a broader local audience.

From there, making connections with journalists and reporters  in the Twin Cities will help to spread the message amongst the bigger ecosystem. Personally, I regularly contribute to TECHdotMN and provide insight into happenings as they relate to St.Cloud; I also know that a new contributor is coming on board to cover the Duluth area tech scene.  To inquire about opportunity like this, send a message here.

To recap, there are three needs that greater Minnesota has when it comes to improving localized high tech economies. If you represent a region outside the Twin Cities and have any feedback on my conclusions – or have some of your own – speak up! Development of the high tech industries in greater Minnesota is not going to happen without clear leadership. Who’s ready?

  • Greater Minnesota needs more face to face interactions and technology showcasing.
  • Greater Minnesota needs more attention and support from the Twin Cities tech community, including angel investors and policy makers.
  • Greater Minnesota needs to get the word out more effectively about what’s happening (or not) in their respective geographies.

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