The Disadvantages of Starting & Growing in Greater Minnesota (Part 2 of 3)

by Rob Weber

NetworkMany 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 post examined the advantages, this follow-up is on the disadvantages, and the last will focus on how the Twin Cities tech community can support greater Minnesota tech hubs — and vice versa.

Part II: The disadvantages of starting and growing a tech company in greater Minnesota.

The biggest disadvantage I’ve found? Attracting a diversity of top notch Talent

Personally, I have found that since the talent pool is limited in smaller cities like ours and it can be difficult to recruit the best of the best skill sets from out of the area.

When recruiting outside of Minnesota, the weather perception can be an issue and, in general, the lack of awareness about quality of life Greater Minnesota has to offer doesn’t help.  Our experiences are not unique, and although ‘hiring and retaining talent’ was cited as the biggest advantage of being in greater Minnesota — diverse top-notch talent is another factor.

The tech networking opportunities are certainly fewer and further between compared to the Twin Cities area.  “The Twin Cities technology scene is the best in the Midwest, with many thriving events and meetups that can provide beneficial networking and morale boosts. I’m still in the vast minority that is not employed by a large company, which can make the day to day business challenges feel more isolated.” says Zach Garbow, Y-Combinator grad and Co-founder of Rochester startup Funeral Innovations.

“There are a smaller amount of peer tech startups to get advice from,” adds Cris Weber, owner of CVW3 Design in Brainerd.

“You have to work hard to stay ‘in touch’ with developments in the field as your options to network are often limited to online networks.” advises Dan Meyer, CEO of Atomic Learning in Little Falls.

Limited access to investors can also be a problem due to lack of awareness; if you are outside of the metro area, you need to work harder to be recognized by investors in the cities. I’d liken this to how startups in Minneapolis/St.Paul complain about the difficulty in getting the attention of venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road.

“Harder Networking,” may be the only sure fire remedy says Dave Fowler who was living in Rochester at the time he participated in the  Y Combinator program in San Francisco, before moving back to Minnesota (only to eventually leave again).

One oft-cited encumbrance is the access to infrastructure — like broadband and distribution facilities — so be sure to do your due diligence.  “You need to make sure it has skilled labor, inexpensive office space, infrastructure (access to Internet – phone / shipping / logistics) and the resources necessary to accommodate your business. I have seen far too many companies jump into a new location without looking into the small little details.” advises Rochester’s Daren Klum, CEO and Founder of CRAM Worldwide.

Although recruiting a diversity of the best talent, less networking, access to investors and infrastructure limitations certainly do pose their challenges to starting and building a tech company in greater Minnesota, there are pros which I outlined earlier.

The final piece of this series will discuss  how the Twin Cities tech community can support greater Minnesota tech companies and how these companies can ally themselves in return.

Leave  a comment if you are starting and growing outside the Twin Cities Metro, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this series and any disadvantages you are facing…