Minnesota tech entrepreneur Scott Litman has been formally cultivating entrepreneurship in Minnesota since 2005 when he formed the Minnesota Cup with business partner Dan Mallin to “pay it forward to the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
The statewide business plan competition has seen over 7,000 participants and awarded over $1m over the past eight years, notably bolstering dozens of Minnesota tech startups.
At what point did you realize that a state-wide business plan competition needed to exist here?
About 9 years ago, we were getting ready to depart from JWT as our management contracts post exit were winding down and I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea – which would become the Minnesota Cup. I went back to bed and thought if I can remember it in the morning, I’ll share it with Dan and I did. We talked through it, he made the idea better and we decided to pursue it.
The inspiration for me was that early in my career, I had competed in a competition hosted by Apple Computer, finishing 3rd in the country and developing some notoriety as well as great relationships as a result that would be key to my being able to launch my first business when I was just 24. The Minnesota Cup is based on this concept, but focused on Minnesota only and its been a way for Dan & I to pay it forward to the next generation of entrepreneurs.
How do you feel the Minnesota Cup has impacted entrepreneurship in Minnesota over the years?
We’ve had over 7,000 participants over the prior 8 years and in that time, we’ve had over $1M in prize money awarded. More then that are the number of participants who have developed better business plans, those that have met mentors, advisors and investors, those that have gained attention in the media for their efforts and those that have attended events and learned valuable information that helps them in their business.
Over the last 4 years, our finalist have raised over $60M in new capital, creating jobs and opportunity while bringing entirely new concepts to market.
Over the 9 years of the program, we’ve seen more programs developed and more focus put into our entrepreneurial ecosystem which is great to see. When we started, there was no MinneStar, TECHdotMN, CoCo, Project Skyway, MOJO, etc. Today, they all are a part of the ecosystem and they all support one another while supporting our states entrepreneurs which is great to see.
Where would you like to see it five years from now?
One thing we wanted to do was make sure that the program became an enduring part of the entrepreneurial landscape. A really key piece of this has been the role that the Holmes Center of Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Management. Professional Director John Stavig doesn’t get enough credit as our partner in running the program and he’s been there since the beginning.
John, along with past Program Director Matt Hilker and current Program Director Melissa Kjolsing have been amazing at taking on the day to day leadership of the program and continuing to make sure that the program is both well run, and continues to evolve. So much of the inspiration on the evolution and what’s next comes from John and now Melissa, and I think this is key to making sure that we continue to have new and fresh ideas so the program grows and makes a greater and greater impact.
What leadership principles do you subscribe to?
We are adherents to EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) and its been great for our business.
Its so easy as an entrepreneur to be inspired by the next great idea and EOS helps keep us and the rest of our organization focussed on the most important initiatives that will drive our growth. The book Traction is a great read and I’d recommend it to all entrepreneurs.
Who are some individuals that you consider leaders and and why?
In my teens, I read and followed everything going on in the early days of the tech revolution – really focused on the organizations created by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. I was fortunate early in my career to meet both of them. In fact, I worked for Microsoft for a year before starting Imaginet and the first iteration of Imaginet was one of the first NeXT Dealers in the country.
They both had plenty of great strengths and weaknesses, but I learned from afar the passion and energy they put into their ventures, the west coast tech culture and the need to have everyone in a company as a stakeholder or shareholder.
How have you grown or evolved as a leader based off experiences with Minnesota Cup and Magnet 360?
Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from the Minnesota Cup is how different it is to advise someone else in their venture vs. to build your own. Through this, the idea is important but execution is everything. An o.k. idea can become great in the hands of a great entrepreneur. Conversely, the very best concepts can fail in the hands of an average entrepreneur. And for all entrepreneurs, its key to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and to build the right team to support the venture.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Let me know if anyone has follow-up questions or areas that I could provide more expansion of thoughts…