Meet Casey Shultz, a startup advocate who honed her skills working with the Silicon Valley startup scene and consulting for Facebook and Google. Now she’s in Minnesota, with a mission to help women and people of color reach equal opportunities in the entrepreneur community. After spending 2019 as director of Twin Cities Startup Week for nonprofit startup accelerator Beta.MN, she’s now stepping into the role of Beta.MN’s executive director.
TCB: What drew you to Beta.MN initially, and what motivates you to stay and serve as executive director?
Casey Shultz: When I first met with Reed [Robinson, former executive director of Beta.MN] about the possibility of working with Beta, I was drawn to the singular vision he laid out for the organization, which emphasizes “founders first,” period. Everything that Beta does is through the lens of “Is this inspiring people to start companies? Is this giving a start-up founder the skills and resources to succeed?” It's rare to find a truly altruistic organization that really wants to set people up for success and put Minnesota on the map as a great place for startups.
Also, I love building things, and when I was asked to interview for the executive director position, I saw it as an opportunity to continue building on this solid foundation that had been laid before me. We're asking big questions like “How do we triple our impact?" and “How do we turn Twin Cities Startup Week into an international destination?” It's daunting and exciting to think about.
Another bonus: I get to spend my days collaborating closely with really smart, passionate people who I like a lot. It's a dream job.
TCB: Is there anything that has surprised you since joining Beta.MN?
CS: Over the last year of leading Twin Cities Startup Week, I've been pleasantly surprised at how passionate the community is about innovation and solving problems that actually make the world a better place. It's been really exciting to see the amount of collaboration that is happening between a lot of the local Fortune 500 companies and startups.
"Eighty percent of the founders in our current cohort are women and/or founders of color. I want to make sure that we continue attracting a diverse group of founders and create an inclusive environment that allows all of our founders to thrive."
TCB: What do you think drives the Twin Cities’ startup culture?
CS: Minnesota has a long history of innovative thinkers dating all the way back to the way the grain exchange was developed in Minneapolis and into the 1940s and beyond, when government research projects ultimately revolutionized the computer industry. This history, combined with an excellent education system and a large pool of subject matter experts who span diverse industries, create the conditions for entrepreneurs who have deep knowledge of real problems and are able to acquire the resources needed to solve them.
TCB: What are your main goals for Beta.MN?
CS: I'm excited to bring some of my expertise in managing start-up accelerator programs in Silicon Valley to the Beta start-up cohorts. We're going to be bringing in more design-thinking elements and a structured 12-week curriculum with a syllabus.
I also plan to continue our work in supporting underestimated founders. Eighty percent of the founders in our current cohort are women and/or founders of color. I want to make sure that we continue attracting a diverse group of founders and create an inclusive environment that allows all of our founders to thrive.
Our longer-term goals are centered around increasing our impact on the entrepreneur community and helping even more founders on their journey. Scaling up Twin Cities Startup Week to feature our thriving arts and culture scene and attracting national attention are also on the list. You know—no big deal!
TCB: What do you see as Beta.MN’s biggest challenge moving forward?
CS: As a nonprofit, Beta relies heavily on corporate sponsorships and grant writing to fund our programs. As we think of ways to increase our impact in the entrepreneur community, we're going to have to innovate our revenue streams to meet our goals.
“Growing up I was a competitive figure skater. I'm very rusty, but Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye has inspired me to think of taking lessons again. You're never too old to learn.”
TCB: What do you see as Beta.MN’s biggest opportunity moving forward?
CS: We've spent the last six years developing programs that have helped accelerate many successful startups in the Twin Cities. I think the next opportunity is to think of ways we can invite startups from Greater Minnesota to participate. We've already started testing some theories, like collaborating with Great North Labs to invite 10 Greater Minnesota startups to participate in the Beta Showcase during Twin Cities Startup Week. It was really successful and provides us a foundation to build on.
TCB: What do you see as your biggest challenge in your new role?
CS: I think one of the biggest challenges for anybody in an executive director position is maintaining the line between vision and day-to-day execution. We have some big, hairy, audacious goals that require long-term planning, but I still have to pay our bills and make sure that the lights stay on.
TCB: How would you describe your leadership style?
CS: I would describe myself as a highly collaborative leader. I'm a firm believer that a rising tide raises all boats, and anything we can do to support each other ultimately benefits the community as a whole.