Start-up

Minneapolis: Where People Are Nice, Craft Beer Is Plentiful, and the Startup Scene Is Hot


Startup Neighborhoods

Distinguished by its abundance of renovated warehouses, the North Loop is home to many of the city’s co-working spaces, like the Coven–which is geared toward women and nonbinary people–along with medical startups like Zipnosis and Gravie.

Food and drink entrepreneurs have set up shop in the Northeast–a 7.5-square-mile neighborhood on the edge of the Mississippi River–including local breweries 612Brew and Indeed Brewing, which distributes beers throughout the Midwest.

Who to Know

Serial entrepreneur Ryan Broshar may have grown up on a farm in Iowa, but the University of Minnesota grad has since become a critical connector between entrepreneurs, investors, and business leaders here. In 2013, he launched the venture fund Matchstick, along with founder-focused organization Beta.MN. The following year, he started Twin Cities Startup Week, and in 2016 he hatched Target’s retail accelerator with Techstars.

Cathy Connett grew up in Jamaica and West Virginia but was “raised Midwestern,” thanks to her parents, who hailed from Nebraska. She landed in the Twin Cities to help commercialize 3M’s new technologies. Now she’s CEO of the Sofia Fund, which is run by women to help female founders grow their businesses. Sofia’s two funds have so far invested $3 million in biotech startups, including Tactile Medical and Rebiotix.

48 Minnesota-based early-stage startups received $495.1 million in venture capital last year, a 40 percent increase from 2016.Source: StarTribune

Husband-and-wife duo Ahmed El Shourbagy and Ashley Paguyo El Shour­bagy created the popular social media account Dogs of Instagram, built a fan base of 4.2 million followers, and then launched a dog accessories company–and they are happy to share their wisdom. “They can help anyone build a brand on social media,” says Davis Senseman, whose law firm specializes in services for entrepreneurs.

Red Flags

“There is a politeness that is pervasive in Minneapolis that can feel welcoming for visitors,” says Coven co-founder Bethany Iverson. “But it’s challenging to build a business here.” People are generally hesitant to share what they really think out of fear of offending someone, says Iverson, which can make it difficult to get honest feedback.

The culture is risk-averse. “People appreciate the security of their corporate jobs,” says John Stavig, director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota. “The cost of going into entrepreneurialism seems higher here.” This sentiment was echoed by a recent survey of more than 100 founders by Beta.MN that found the appeal of a corporate career has diminished people’s willingness to start a company.

Notable Funding

$38 million: Leadpages (designs customizable landing page templates)

$240 million: Bright Health (sells individual health insurance)

The Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area is home to 19 Fortune 500 companies, more per capita than any other metro region.Source: Minneapolis St. Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership and StarTribune

Notable Exits

Conagra paid $250 million for BoomChickaPop in 2017.

Vista Equity Partners paid $153 million for email communication software startup GovDelivery in 2016.

Companies to Watch

Sister and brother Aubry and Kale Walch​ wanted to re-create the meat dishes they ate growing up in Guam–minus the meat. The result: the Herbivorous Butcher, a vegan butcher that sells meat-free Italian sausages, porterhouse steaks, and chicken.

Last year, serial entrepreneurs Tina Sharkey and Ido Leffler launched the San Francisco-based consumer basics e-commerce store Brandless–now bolstered by $292.5 million in venture capital–with a product development outpost in Minneapolis, which is, not coincidentally, the home turf of larger-than-life retailer Target.

Eric and Andrew Dayton, sons of Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, created Askov Finlayson, a men’s outdoor clothing brand and retailer that flaunts its dapper Minnesota roots with products like its must-have knit pompom hat with the word North stitched on the front.

Talent Pipeline

The Techstars Retail accelerator in partnership with Target has worked with 30 startups since hatching in 2016. Participants–like Local Crate–often end up working with the big- box retailer.

Minnesota Cup, the largest statewide competition for startups in the country, is run by the University of Minnesota. Winning startups include Astropad, maker of an app that turns an iPad into a drawing pad, and MicroOptx, a medical device company changing how glaucoma is treated.

Average salary for a local software developer: $84,188 per year Source: Glassdoor

In 2015, General Mills launched 301 Inc, an incubator that invests in early-stage food companies such as No Cow, a vegan protein-snack company.

Where to Talk Shop

Professionals meet over “seasonal Midwest” fare like creamy spinach cheese curds in James Beard Award-winning chef Gavin Kaysen’s Spoon and Stable, located in a converted horse stable downtown.

Come to Moose & Sadie’s for the chance to rub elbows with the North Loop’s advertising and marketing gurus, who often take breakfast meetings at the café–and stay for the locals’ favorite dish, huevos rancheros, made with refried beans prepared in-house.

Minneapolis is no stranger to craft beer, so when entrepreneurs want to toast to the day’s accomplishments–or failures–they head to one of its many breweries, including Bauhaus Brew Labs, known for its varietals like the IPA Sky-Five.

From the November 2018 issue of Inc. Magazine

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