Our Cup (Can) Runneth Over

Monday, April 24, 2017

Minnesota has a tremendous history of entrepreneurship. The hard-working immigrant farmers who settled here developed the entrepreneurial capacity to feed the world, and proceeded to develop the technology, health care and retail industries. Long before we could tout our lengthy list of Fortune 500 headquarters, families such as the Cargills, Pillsburys and Daytons took risks to create their companies, to be joined later by names such as Norris, Bakken, Carlson and Schulze. These Minnesota entrepreneurs built legendary companies that have flourished here as a result of our talented workforce.

Minnesota remains a great place to launch a business. We have an extraordinarily talented workforce — well educated and loyal, with a strong work ethic. Historical investments in public education, the environment and the arts have created a vibrant and creative community that retains and attracts talent. We have a supportive and engaged community that leads the nation in volunteering, voting and workforce participation rates.

Keep the Entrepreneurial Cup Flowing

Despite these strengths, we need to continue to fill our entrepreneurial cup. Of the 59 Minnesota-based companies with over $1 billion in revenue, none were independently founded in the past 30 years. No Minnesota companies are currently listed among the fastest-growing in the Fortune 1000. But the simple truth has been well documented in research by the Kauffman Foundation: Firms less than five years old create all net new jobs. Entrepreneurship is a necessity for job creation.

To create these new firms, we must educate, support and connect the next generation of entrepreneurs. While capital will always be a constraint, talent must come first. Education for entrepreneurs is evolving and rapidly improving. An exploding range of accelerators, boot camps, meetups and online materials provide access to an exhaustive list of resources and content. The University of Minnesota and other local universities are implementing unique experiential curriculum that develops students and provides them with the skills to innovate and create their own ventures. Graduates of these programs are developing as leaders in the entrepreneurial community and establishing programs, events and organizations that support entrepreneurs.

Emerging entrepreneurs, particularly underrepresented communities, need connections and support. The lack of investment going to women and minority groups is a missed opportunity. Leading organizations such as NDC, MEDA and SMIF are expanding to meet the financing and mentoring needs of low-income, minority and rural entrepreneurs. These groups train thousands of entrepreneurs and loan millions of dollars each year, generating a tremendous ROI for their communities. MN Cup seeks to mobilize these resources in support of all Minnesota entrepreneurs, with specific programming and prizes developed for these targeted groups.

Passing the Entrepreneurial Cup

Based on our 12 years of leading MN Cup, we have seen that entrepreneurs often work in isolation and can greatly benefit from coaching and timely connections to resources. Recruiting their founding teams, finding mentors, and connecting with customers, investors, advisors and contractors are vital steps in getting a concept off the ground. Combined with education and coaching on testing and developing their concept, these connections can accelerate development of both entrepreneurs and their companies.

Future generations of Minnesotans will look back on the great companies created by our entrepreneurial forebears. Will we have found ways to innovatively retain and grow the existing base of large companies while adding to the list with high-growth startups? Did we leverage our talent and supportive community to create the next Medtronic, Target or UnitedHealth? Now more than ever, our community must step up and extend our shared legacy of giving. We invite you to become a part of the Holmes Center and MN Cup’s community-led effort as mentors, sponsors or supporters to put your talents to use in support of Minnesota’s next generation of entrepreneurs.

Want to submit your idea for the Minnesota Cup? The deadline for applications is this Friday.