"Ecosystem" is a word that comes up a lot among business leaders in the startup community. Ecolab CEO Doug Baker used it onstage at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul at a recent event hosted by economic development group Greater MSP.
“Big companies start out as small companies,” Baker told the entrepreneurial crowd. “Small companies count on big companies. It’s an ecosystem, and it’s critical we work together if we’re going to be successful on Earth, and here in Minneapolis and St. Paul.”
Baker is one of those big-company leaders advocating for Forge North, Greater MSP’s new initiative to make the local startup community more cohesive and productive. Just look at the calendar for Twin Cities Startup Week (Oct. 9–16) and you’ll see the challenge: So many organizations and accelerators and incubators have bubbled up in recent years to support various aspects of building new enterprises that it can be overwhelming to find an entry point. It’s a good problem to have, no doubt, and we hope TCB’s Startup Week guide will help. But bigger picture, Forge North has created a digital hub at forgenorth.com to connect entrepreneurs with the right people and programs at every stage of development.
“Time is the most precious commodity when starting a business. We want to increase the speed to connection,” says Greater MSP CEO Peter Frosch, who is counting every second. When it comes to new business formation, Minnesota lags behind peer cities including Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Denver, and Portland, Ore. Minnesotans started 9,336 businesses last year, which was half as many as entrepreneurs started in Boston alone, according to data compiled by Greater MSP from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the plus side, our region has one of the highest five-year survival rates for new businesses, at 55 percent. And despite reports about Minnesota’s lack of tech talent, our state bests national competitors for workforce strength, according to Greater MSP.
Now we need to mobilize locally and spread the word globally. “The initiative not only propels the hard work of entrepreneurs and innovators who create jobs, but also allows a platform to let the world know about the incredible talent and innovation that is often overlooked in this region,” says Amy Langer, co-founder of Minneapolis–based executive staffing agency Salo. She joined Baker onstage at the Forge North kick-off event in July.
Frosch knows we need to break down walls between big business and startups. “There’s growing interest within the corporate executive suites in disruption and tech innovation and in the new kind of talent their companies are relying on. We need to be more intentional about developing the next generation.”
“We need to be more intentional about developing the next generation.”
—Peter Frosch, CEO, Greater MSP
I’d encourage everyone to check out a Startup Week event—bring your staff; take your kids. Make your downtown restaurant reservations early that week—more than 17,000 people are expected to attend Startup Week events, which includes a growing contingency of investors, founders, influencers, and execs coming from out of town. (Keep your eyes peeled for Jane Fonda and Katie Couric, who will be in town for Manova, the global summit on the future of health scheduled in Minneapolis to coincide with Startup Week.) Whether you’re interested in health care, agriculture, technology, education, or innovation, the breadth of events is exciting, energizing, and, in most cases, open to the public.
Now Frosch is thinking about all the weeks that follow. “Startup Week is powerful,” he says. “How do you work together the other 51 weeks of the year to keep the momentum growing? How do we have a mechanism to keep ideas growing throughout the year? That nut helped grow Forge North.”