A humble group of Minnesota Software / IT CEOs have come together to reconstitute the local software industry and ‘spark a movement to make Minnesota’s software economy rank among the most vibrant and respected in the nation.’
The Minnesota Emerging Software Advisory, aka MESA, has been in the works since 2009 and spent 2010 selecting and supporting beta portfolio companies. “We wanted to make sure that we have some success stories and proven results before telling the world what we’re all about,” says founding mentor and spokesman Kevin Spanbauer, a search specialist by trade. “We’re starting out small, although our vision is to put 50 companies through the mentorship program over the next five years.”
MESA will function under an ‘intellectual capital’ model whereby primary and secondary mentors will advise management for 12 – 24 months at a select start-up and emerging software companies on topics critical to success. “The application process starts with a detailed pitch, followed by lots of questions – personal, technical, cultural, etc. – and a deep diligence dive. We’re certainly not interested in the lifestyle business,” notes Spanbauer. MESA’s framework of objectives includes:
- Strategic development and advisory on areas of functional expertise such as: software development, outsourcing, finance, legal, and human resources
- An emphasis on practicality
- Target a very short list of “portfolio” companies to ensure a strong match with resources and impact
- Companies “graduate” from mentorship and pursue prosperity
- Longer-term expansion of breadth of offered resources and the number of participating software companies
MESA’s current mentor roster includes some familiar names from the local industry: Todd Krautkremer, Jerry Grabowski, Jim Moar, Rick Engels, Tim Butler, and Spanbauer himself. “Everyone has either held the position or is currently a CEO in a Minnesota-based technology company…they’ve got a proven track record…each one of these individuals have started, built, grown, run and (some) sold a business in the industry,” says Spanbauer.
To date, Emergingsoft and RAI Stone Group have participated MESA’s program; personal security startup Gimigo has also recently enrolled. “Even though it’s difficult to help this stage of company anticipate what’s next, MESA took on the challenge with RAI Stone Group. They don’t pretend to have insights they don’t have but instead, create a focused dialogue of discovery,” says a website endorsement from RAI Stone Group CEO Sam Zordich.
“We’re not in this to make money – we don’t charge for the mentorship, we don’t charge for consulting, we don’t take equity or even board positions. These are all conflicts of interests for us. We’re a for-profit LLC for legal purposes, but essentially function like a nonprofit,” Spanbauer says. He describes the ‘break-even’ funding mechanism as a combination of nominal dues ($250+) from portfolio companies and resource network partners who are part of a preferred vendors list.
“We are actively vetting prospective portfolio companies, adding other mentors as we grow, and also building out our preferred network of resource partners,” he concludes, encouraging interested parties to reach out for more information.