Governor Tim Walz, Commissioner Steve Grove, and local corporate and nonprofit leaders came together on Wednesday, October 27 at local incubator Twin Ignition Startup Garage to announce the “Build What Matters” initiative: state resources that will directly support the growth of startups and small businesses in Minnesota.

An audience of startup founders, state leaders from Launch Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), and investors listened to a panel filled with diverse perspectives on Minnesota’s economy, including Digi-Key Electronics’s Dave Doherty, Xcel Energy’s Brett C Carter, HabitAware’s Aneela Idnani Kumar and Walker Art Center’s Mary Ceruti. 

Minnesota currently ranks as No. 1 in the country in five-year business survival rate and Fortune 500 companies per capita, and No. 2 best state for economic opportunity, as well as best state overall (behind Hawaii, which we can’t do much about.)

Ben Rasmussen and Seth Peter, investors and co-founders of Twin Ignition Startup Garage, gave an introduction that mentioned the team’s goal to create 100,000 jobs at Twin Ignition over the next 20 years. Twin Ignition is a space for tech companies, in a variety of stages, to come together, feel welcome, find funding and programming to help them become better entrepreneurs. 

Walz said his team chose Twin Ignition to host the event as it highlights the ecosystem this initiative aims to continue fostering.

“This initiative is about telling the story, building the ecosystem, and working together to make sure people know this is truly one of the best places in the country to start a business,” Walz said, mentioning that Minnesota is home to inventions from hearing aids to Nerf footballs.

The past year and a half has been challenging for small business owners and entrepreneurs, and the whole country is now facing an extraordinary workforce challenge, Commissioner Grove said – but with disruption comes more new business creation.

“People want to solve new challenges and do new things right now, and we want them to do that in Minnesota,” he said of the initiative and announcement highlighting business leaders doing just that.

HabitAware founder Aneela Idnani spoke about why she has started, and kept, her business helping with compulsive behaviors such as hair pulling and nail biting in Minnesota.

“We stayed because Minnesota’s entrepreneurial ecosystem made starting a business tangible. We stay because we’ve seen this ecosystem grow thanks to dedicated support from the state and know it can become so much more,” she said.

Dave Doherty of Digi-Key Electronics, from Thief River Falls, Minnesota — 300 miles northwest of the Twin Cities — spoke on the community experience starting a company in a rural area. “The reputation of the Twin Cities is unprecedented… but that’s not the only secret of Minnesota. There are areas outside that are equally opportunistic,” he said.

Providing a corporate viewpoint, Brett C Carter, Chief Customer and Innovation Officer at Xcel Energy — one of the many Fortune 500s in Minnesota — said being a part of the robust economy has helped Xcel make goals such as providing 100 percent of energy from carbon-free by 2050. 

“It’s that innovation that just creates the kind of environment that organizations like these can really grow in,” Carter said. “It’s wonderful to have a state that is supporting and investing in small businesses and startups to this level, I’ve never seen it anywhere else.”

A nonprofit and cultural perspective from the Walker Art Center was given by Executive Director Mary Ceruti. In 2019, 74 percent of Minnesotans said they had attended a cultural event in the past year, compared to 54 percent nationally, she said, showing a creative, curious, and engaged population.

All Minnesotan kudos aside, Walz ended with a pledge that the state will not gloss over what we could be doing better. Until every Black family feels welcome and safe, we have work to do. Until every child that goes to school gets the same opportunity, we will not rest,” he said.

Watch the whole event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKnYIoAZh64