Google to Invest in Mpls. Entrepreneur Events at CoCo

Google is investing an undisclosed sum to support events that fuel entrepreneurship in Minnesota; a company official said the partnership with local “co-working” firm CoCo is the first of its kind.

Officials from tech giant Google, Inc., visited the Minneapolis home of local “co-working” firm CoCo on Wednesday, where they hosted workshops and announced plans to sponsor two years’ worth of entrepreneur events in the state.

CoCo offers alternative office space to freelance professionals, small businesses, and corporate work groups at its locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Google partnership was unveiled during a daylong conference called Google for Entrepreneurs Day, which included educational sessions geared toward marketers and businesspeople, as well as developers and technology professionals. The event also featured remarks from U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

The two-year partnership between CoCo and Mountain View, California-based Google will include a series of events, conferences, and social gatherings at CoCo’s space in the Minneapolis Grain Exchange building.

CoCo cofounder Don Ball told Twin Cities Business that Google will fund the events, although he declined to disclose the terms of the partnership. The funding is not, however, contingent upon CoCo promoting Google technology, he said. The events must simply support entrepreneurial activity.

Meanwhile, CoCo can tap Google experts for certain events; for example, it may use Google+ Hangouts, which includes video streaming, to communicate with the company during educational sessions. CoCo will also use that platform to allow Minnesota entrepreneurs to participate in events remotely.

Some of the events, such as Startup Weekend Twin Cities, are recurring but will now be financed by Google, Ball said. CoCo is also considering new events to launch, and it plans to release a full schedule in the coming weeks.

Google Entrepreneurship Manager John Lyman said in a phone interview that Google has sponsored events in many other cities and formed partnerships with various tech incubators, but the relationship with CoCo, whereby a single partner will host two years worth of events, is unique.

The partnership is the latest in a series of indicators that Google is interested in establishing a stronger bond with Minnesota. The company joined the Minnesota High Tech Association in 2011 and said at the time that it planned to collaborate with local tech firms.

In late 2011, Google Chairman Erik Schmidt joined Rybak and several local business leaders at CoCo, where Schmidt lauded the local culture of entrepreneurship. Google officials have also visited the Twin Cities to assist in intern-training programs.

Ball said he was initially wary of partnering with corporate sponsors for CoCo programs, but Google was an appropriate fit because so many local entrepreneurs already tap the company’s services, many of which are free.

Lyman described the partnership as mutually beneficial. “We gain a great partner in CoCo, which helps us better understand what’s going on in Minneapolis, and it gives us access to entrepreneurs,” he said.