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Listen Now: Launch Minnesota Program Specialist Maddy LeClaire on Granting Innovation Grants

Last year, Launch Minnesota was in danger of not being funded. Now, the organization is doing more than ever with a coffer full of funds, more Innovation Grants to dole out, and a new Program Specialist in the mix. Listen to Maddy LeClaire talk about those Innovation Grants, the importance of Minnesota connection, and a lot more in this clip from the “Launching Minnesota Storytelling With Maddy LeClaire of Launch Minnesota” episode of The Podcast.

Maddy LeClaire  00:00

I think the numbers tell it an incredible story. 54 startups received close to $1.5 million in grants last year. And that was, of course, matched with private dollars as well. So, that expands that amount.

We always talk about the, the importance of making sure funding is spread across a more diverse base. So, we define targeted founders as women, veterans, BIPOC founders, and those in Greater Minnesota. 67% of our grants have gone to that targeted area. So, I am very proud to be part of an organization with those kinds of statistics.

Of course, Launch is still a relatively young program. But the difference that DEED and this immediate small team of launch Minnesota has been able to make is incredible. We surveyed some of our grantees from that first biennium — 47 grantees. They hired at least 37 full time employees. 49% secured private investment. And grantees collectively raised $35 million. And that represents a $9 return for every Launch Minnesota dollar invested and a $40 return for startups that secured private investments When I saw those statistics, I was awed by what this program and this organization has been able to accomplish since 2019.

Alex Skjong  01:31

One of the things that happened with Launch Minnesota in 2021 that was probably one of the biggest stories in that sector was that it was on the chopping block; there was a possibility that it wasn’t going to be funded. And after all of the stats that you just said, it makes me wonder why that was ever a possibility in the first place. Why do you think that there was even a chance that [the government] wouldn’t fund it? Because what was funding in the next two years? 1.8 million? In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a ton of money for a state budget. So, I’m wondering, do you think there’s still kind of a disbelief that small business and entrepreneurship can really make an impact in Minnesota?

Maddy LeClaire  02:37

I think we’ve seen that it can make a pretty big impact. And I think those numbers tell that story. All of that was before my time, so I can’t provide a lot of details as to what was going on. And I won’t pretend to assume any of that. But all I can say is I am incredibly grateful that our funding was renewed. This is huge. And we have seen what a difference what seems like a relatively small amount of money can make for people. We award up to $35,000 to a company if they receive one of the Innovation Grants. And that may seem like small potatoes for some people. But for an early-stage startup, that’s everything. And so, we are really grateful that we have been refunded, and that we have four years to show, again, that this program can make a huge difference for the Minnesota startup community.

Alex Skjong  03:36

You mentioned the targeted founders. Talk a little bit more about how Launch Minnesota is impacting those demographics. The focus on DEI initiatives has grown exponentially even in the past couple of years. There’s still a ton of work to be done. But I would just like to hear from you, kind of diving in a little bit deeper, about how Launch Minnesota is impacting women founders, BIPOC founders, and Greater Minnesota founders.

Maddy LeClaire  04:05

We’ve done our best to connect with those groups in the first place and make sure they know that we exist and the resources that we have available. We’ve worked with groups like The Coven and MEDA and so many other organizations in Greater Minnesota. Organizations like Launchpad Bemidji, Innovate 218, Redwing Ignite…. What I learned in journalism is you have to get to know your sources, but now it’s the people that we’re serving. We don’t want to come down and just say, here’s what works. We want to listen to these communities, hear their pain points, and see what we can do to help We don’t want to assume anything about what they want, or what’s beneficial to those groups. It’s just about good communication.

Alex Skjong  05:16

Coming into Launch Minnesota, did you have any things in mind that you wanted to make your goals to change or improve in the Launch Minnesota process?

Maddy LeClaire  05:29

I think one thing that people have said to me is they want help sharing stories and doing marketing. And of course, those are the two things that I specialize in. So, I was happy to hear about that. But again, there’s so many amazing founders here. And there’s so many great success stories. So, we talked about the importance of connect, convene, and catalyze. Those are the things that I hope to use my background to bring into this position and continue to build on the awesomeness that Launch Minnesota already is.

Alex Skjong  06:21

Are we going to see more direct storytelling from Launch Minnesota going forward?

Maddy LeClaire  06:27

We hope so. I’m certainly not starting a new publication. But I hope so through our newsletters, through our social media, through working with great organizations like

Alex Skjong  06:45

Let’s talk about Innovation Grants. That’s one of the one of the key things that Minnesota is doing right now, providing those grants to those targeted funders that we’ve talked about. A lot of money has been handed out. Talk a little bit in general about the grants

Maddy LeClaire  07:18

Our Innovation Grants target the most promising businesses in Minnesota that have either an innovative technology or an innovative business model or product. And the funding that they received through an Innovation Grant can be used for research and development, direct business expenses, or technology assistance. So, if you apply, you can receive up to $35,000. And that has been matched with private dollars as well. So, it’s a great way to incentivize investors in the community to also get in on this. And it’s been very well received. We have awarded more than $4 million in undiluted funding to startups.

Alex Skjong  08:00

Do you know if there are going to be the changes to the allocation process going forward? Or is it going to remain the same?

Maddy LeClaire  08:08

It’s going to be relatively the same moving forward. A founder will submit an application, it’ll go for internal review, and we will determine if the startup is eligible and meets the criteria. And then if it is, it moves on to our external review process.

Alex Skjong  08:35

Right. Let’s look forward to 2022 and 2023. What’s coming from Launch Minnesota?

Maddy LeClaire  08:44

So many things. Most recently, we launched a statewide startup calendar. We wanted to have one that really illustrated everything going on across the state. So, you can access that on our website. More education grants. So, we will be awarding grants to groups to help provide education to new entrepreneurs. More Innovation Grants, of course. And the Minnesota Exchange, which is a new platform that launched last year with local startup Kinetic who I believe was recently on the podcast. So, everyone should keep an eye out for everything going on with Launch, because it’s going to be a lot.

And then of course helping startups and community members along the way. We’re not just here for our grantees. We’re here for entrepreneurial support organizations, innovators in general, and anyone that we can help. So, I encourage everyone to reach out.

Alex Skjong
Alex oversees the content produced for BETA, Twin Cities Startup Week, and When he’s not writing or editing, there’s a good chance he’s enjoying a refreshing brew and explaining the merits of heavy metal (of which there are many).