When Startups Meet, Ideas And Hype Are Put To The Test



By Lee Schafer, Star Tribune

“Everyone who dropped by the Beta.MN 2.5 event earlier this week to meet with 15 promising start-up companies got three small tokens to distribute among jars each firm had on their table.

These were small plastic tokens about the size and weight of a cheap poker chip, gold with a dollar sign on each side. It’s generous to call them worthless. I called mine bitcoins, and I took the task of allocating my worthless bitcoins very seriously.”

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  • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

    “In fact, looking around at the end of the evening, it was hard to
    imagine any of the 15 start-ups becoming a company like Medtronic that’s
    a big driver of economic vitality in our region.”


    • http://about.me/chuckumentary Chuckumentary

      VR is a once-in-a-decade media and technology. I don’t know about the next Medtronic, but the next YouTube or Instagram is not going to be a 2D platform.

  • Daren Cotter

    Thanks to Lee for writing about the MN startup scene! The tone of the article does feel a bit unnecessarily negative, highlighted by the Medtronic quote. It’s important to remember that these are startups, and startups are really, really hard — 90%+ will fail and 1% or less will be billion dollar companies. “Can any of these companies be like Medtronic” is not the criteria I would use to measure success.

  • oldwhitemen

    grandpa voice is back again, in that subtle condescending tone

  • Don Ball

    I’m glad to see the coverage in the Strib. There are fair arguments on both sides of the equation. Sure, there are what I like to call “Pizza Apps” that are not going to have a huge economic impact. But every experience is a building block for the entrepreneur, so whether they succeed or fail, it’s all good. On the other hand (and I think this is what Lee’s comment alludes to) it would be great to see more startups that truly have scale and game-changing potential. I’m optimistic. I’m sure we’ll get there!

    • Daren Cotter

      I appreciate the comment Don. I agree that we want startups to make a real impact, and not just for the sake of having startups. (Maybe this is what Lee is hinting at?) But we have to remember that none of us (especially Lee) know the long term potential of these companies. A few months into their existence, one could have poked fun at Google and Facebook too. “Search doesn’t have a business model” and “Social Media will never make money” are real things that were said by smart people well into these companies’ respective journeys. And these people were right…until they weren’t. =)

  • Frank Jaskulke

    Very few people thought Medtronic was going to be Medtronic back in 1959 :) I think it is easy to imagine all 15 of them being the next big thing! What is hard is actually making it happen. Lee should have said, its hard to predict which one might be the next Medtronic…and if it wasn’t we’d all be rich.

    Either way, I’m glad to see the recognition.

  • Ken

    We’re not worthy

  • http://paulprins.net Paul Prins

    I’m glad he was there, and engaged with the companies present. This is good exposure for the local tech scene, and creates an opportunity for us to prove our stuff. The local tech community got some great exposure out of his attendance and writing. While I disagree with the closing sentiments I applaud his engagement (he obviously attended and spoke with many/all of the companies). This is a very corporate town of folks working the Fortune 500 – we need to expect push-back like Schafer’s. Many of the businesses there Tuesday could adapt and evolve over the next few decades to be 100M+ ARR.

    Lets remember that collectively we have been frustrated by the lack of local coverage, and now we’re complaining that coverage we got isn’t exactly how we would want it. This is a positive step forward, and it’s creating more space locally to tell our stories. Lets focus on making them worth telling.

    • http://about.me/chuckumentary Chuckumentary

      100%! I’m glad Lee was there and don’t expect him to be a cheerleader. Some of these startups may not survive, but some may have a huge impact over the coming years.

    • Don Ball

      You’re right, Paul. The coverage from more mainstream media is needed. Each one will have its inaccuracies or tone issues, but the more coverage there is, the more likely we are to see stories that hit the nail on the head. So, let’s just keep them writing about the local startup phenomenon! It can’t just be poor ol’ Pesek writing the stories (btw, Jeff, you must have carpal tunnel syndrome by now!).

  • Don Ball

    I got a chance to meet Marc Nager, one of the guys behind Startup Weekend/UpGlobal (now Techstars) and complained to him about what I felt at the time were too many “pizza ordering apps” coming out of Startup Weekend. It was my way of complaining that “kids these days” don’t have big enough imaginations to take on big, hairy and meaningful problems.

    He admitted that he once felt the same way, but after seeing enough Startup Weekends around the world, he concluded that it’s all good. Maybe your first startup is a pizza ordering app. And maybe it fails. Or maybe it does well, you exit and your next startup tackles a different problem that occurs to you at your next stage of life.

    His point was that the experience of forming a team, working through a problem and figuring out how to build something is all beneficial, especially if it’s your first time ever. What you learn this time around makes you a better person, able to do greater things next time around.

    Because how many of us got it all figured out from the start? Hell, I’m getting up there in years and I’m STILL trying to figure it out.

    So, that really changed my view on things. Do I want everyone to be launching the “next Medtronic”? Yes…if that’s where you’re at and what you want to do. But if at your current place and time you want to create a booty call app, then I’m behind you 100% You’ll learn what you need to learn and move on from there.

    • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

      Interesting perspecive Don, especially coming off Twin Cities Startup Weekend 7 just hours ago. (BTW Techstars (read: Foundry) buying SW/UP/ETC. was a super smart move – but that’s another convo).

      Looking back over the years of facilitating such events and observing others, you can start to see the byproduct of cultivating that startup activity and the effects that you/Marc allude to, ie – “You’ll learn what you need to learn and move on from there.”

      Entrepreneurship is a journey that has to start somewhere. For some, those initial steps happen at Startup Weekend, maybe followed by a booth at Beta.MN, or a stage at Minnedemo down the line.

      Kid Around Town (SWTC6 -> MD20 -> BMN 2.5) DocentEDU (SWEDU -> MD19) Docalytics (SWTC3 -> BMN 1 -> MD18) & QONQR (SWTC1 -> MD21) are some classic examples that scenario.

      For others, it’s a matter of learning what you don’t want to do (I thought I wanted to be an entrepreneur but it turns out I actually don’t). Some are happy landing new jobs with emerging startups that spring up or more established companies that sponsor. Some just literally love startups and want to hang with peers and show some love, wheras they could care less about the outcome. Above all, these opportunities are building blocks that accelerate the learning curve and community integration/network expansion…not to mention the benefits visibility.

      These are, by definition and design, early-stage companies – hence the “beta” in Beta.MN. It’s as though the authors own ignorance around this context manifested into a trite conclusion of belittlement and disparagement. The good news however, is that no entrepreneur needs validation from anyone but their customers to realize their goals and ambitions :)