Gopher Entrepreneurs: The Minnesota Cup
Scott Litman and Dan Mallin, '95 MBA, are lifelong entrepreneurs who have lived the peaks and valleys—and the grueling hours—of starting, growing, and selling companies. Having succeeded numerous times, they wanted to help other Minnesota entrepreneurs.
Faced with noncompete agreements after selling their digital marketing company, the duo decided to make the most of their time. They capitalized on their experience, network, and ties to the University of Minnesota to launch the Minnesota Cup, a statewide competition for new ventures. In addition to the University, they lined up the state of Minnesota and Wells Fargo Bank as their partners
The competition, now 10 years old, has become deeply embedded in the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, with 85 percent of Minnesota counties having participants. In addition, 118 finalists have raised more than $160 million in funding during the past decade.
“The Minnesota Cup is really the premier resource for anyone who is looking to start a business in Minnesota because we provide them with multiple tools and resources to take them from a starting point to potential execution,” says Melissa Kjolsing, director of the Minnesota Cup.
The University and the Carlson School’s Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, where Kjolsing works, play an integral role in the competition by encouraging faculty, students, and alumni from all disciplines to enter their research or ideas. The Holmes center connects every semifinalist with a mentor, many of them alumni, who provide in-depth industry and business advice to participants. The state’s business community hosts free seminars for participants on topics like raising capital and legal concerns. In addition, tested entrepreneurs and business leaders serve as judges who provide informed feedback on competitors’ business plans. And then there’s the publicity and prize money: $300,000 split among the Minnesota Cup grand prize winner, seven division winners, and the runners-up.
“The Minnesota Cup provides a platform of exposure that entrepreneurs would not have gotten had they not gone through the competition,” says Kjolsing. “That exposure results in potentially more capital for the company, more customers, contacts, and people who want to see them succeed.”
This story was originally published in the winter 2015 issue of Minnesota Magazine as part of a feature on risk takers, problem solvers, big thinkers, team builders, moneymakers, and go-getters.