TC Startup Week Day 6: Out-of-state VC, Beta.MN’s Showcase, MN Cup’s Next Winner
It’s understandable if you’re worried you missed something at Startup Week on Monday. The day was chock full of panels, talks, pitch sessions, and product showcases — along with two separate conferences held at the same time as Startup Week. Below, TCB staffers give a rundown of some highlights from day six.
Nabbing out-of-state VC: When is the right time to start looking for venture capital outside Minnesota? You’ll probably want to exhaust all your local options first. “Look local first,” said Ryan Broshar, founder and managing director of Matchstick Ventures. “If you can get some sort of local momentum, that actually acts as a filter for getting national funds.” During a Monday morning panel at WeWork Uptown, Broshar sat on a panel with leaders of two other venture capital firms: 2048 Ventures senior associate Zann Ali and Scrum Ventures managing director Michael Proman. The panelists agreed that Minnesota’s startup scene needs a more cohesive message for out-of-state investors. “There are a lot of really unique, high-performing companies in this market, but one of the challenges and major headwinds we have is just defining Minnesota,” Proman said. “We need founders who have institutional relationships not just in this market but in other markets.”
Speaking of local funding… Don’t forget to tap into state resources, either. On Monday morning, Launch Minnesota held an open house in downtown St. Paul to share details on state-run programs to help startups. Attendees began lining up outside the First National Bank Building’s conference center before doors even opened at 9 a.m.
Stand-out brands: How can your brand stand out in a cluttered content world? That was the question at an afternoon panel at the Carlson School of Management. “There’s really only one secret,” said Elizabeth Giorgi, CEO and co-founder of soona, a Minneapolis-based studio for same-day photo and video content. “The secret is to talk about you and to talk about your brand. … What does your product or service enable your customer to do, feel, or experience?” Giorgi asked attendees to provide real-world marketing problems that they needed help solving, and then she handed out advice. For Matthew Nelson, co-founder of EcoSlurp and freshman at the Carlson School of Management, her advice included designing his biodegradable plastic straw with some sort of memorable visual that people could associate with their experience, and to take science jargon out of the spotlight.
Giorgi also advised Key Log Rolling president and CEO Abby Hoeschler Delaney to call attention to her own expertise through her marketing. “There’s something inside your business that you’re an expert at, and that is the kernel of truth that’s going to lead an experience.”
Headshots, anyone? soona is hosting a headshot “happy hour” starting at 3 p.m. today, where anyone can come get a free headshot and cocktail.
Getting visual on social media: “There’s a visual hierarchy to everything. So, what is going to capture your attention from the top to the bottom?” Khalique Rogers, founder of Good Riddance life skills consulting, poses to an intimate audience of about ten who’ve gathered at the Glen Nelson Center in St. Paul. Rogers joined photographer, videographer, and producer Brandon Diebold to talk through actionable steps to improving social media strategy. The big one? “Simplify your message,” said Rogers, who’s also audio engineer for Minneapolis-based band Don Kenneth. “You don’t want it to be something that someone messes up in translation.” Both Rogers and Diebold are a part of marketing firm Lens 360, and its Youth Lens 360 program, a marketing agency that creates content while also encouraging and training young entrepreneurs ages 14 to 24.
Beta.MN showcase returns: A handful of Minnesota startups strutted their stuff at Beta.MN’s showcase on Monday night. Here are a few companies to watch out for:
- Joshin—A Minneapolis-based tech company that helps parents of children with special needs book qualified, vetted, specially trained caregivers on-demand, 24/7 via a mobile app. (Think care.com, but for more specialized care).
- Mortarr—an imagery-driven and search-based website and app that serves the commercial construction and design industry as the new source for project inspiration, products, and professionals. (Think houzz.com, but for the commercial construction and design industry).
- ZenLord Pro—a software management platform for landlords in Minnesota that streamlines all processes involved with managing a rental portfolio, from lease generation to maintenance requests.
- Bus Stop Mamas—A workforce engagement program that connects parents with jobs that meet their schedule needs.
- Nexyst 360—a mobile solution to crop handling and storage; crops are loaded into “smart boxes” at harvest and stay in those boxes until they reach their final destination to provide food tracibility and to reduce farmer expenses.
“This type of event is extremely helpful for early stage startups to get some exposure, polish their pitches and collect ideas to solidify their idea/product vision and direction,” said Michael Shishkin, CTO of Thinking Engines, a one-stop shop for construction site monitoring and reporting. “The most important part of this event is exposure to very wide variety of people (and opinions), opportunity to find help (not only financial), discover potential synergies with other businesses and explore new approaches to their ideas/products.”
MN Cup winner unveiled: MN Cup awarded its $50,000 grand prize Monday night to AbiliTech Medical, a medical device startup that is developing “wheelchairs for the arms” to help restore function in those with upper-limb neuromuscular disorders. Runner up was Voloco, a voice processing app by Resonant Cavity. “Business is a force for good. You can make an impact…and make money. That’s also something we believe in,” Sri Zaheer, dean of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Angie Conley, founder and CEO of Abilitech, said the win was a “validation of our efforts over the past three years.” Conley said she aims to use the MN Cup funding for further clinical studies of her product. Conley first participated in MN Cup back in 2016.
On the future of farming: Prices for most ag products are linked to world markets, but some Minnesota farmers said Monday that it’s possible to take advantage of market niches. They also stressed the need to be more transparent to food consumers, who want to know how and where their food is grown. The farmers discussed the future of farming in St. Paul on a panel that was part of Food Ag Ideas Week, which is running in tandem with Startup Week. One farmer is growing hops for the brewing industry, while a southern Minnesota organic farmer is producing grain for vodka. Learn more about their perspectives in trending editor Liz Fedor’s report from the event.
… and the future of health: Separate but intentionally scheduled to overlap with Startup Week, the second annual Manova Summit kicked off a three-day conference at The Depot in Minneapolis on the future of health. Monday highlights included Theranos whistleblowers Tyler Shultz and Erika Cheung talking with ABC News correspondent Rebecca Jarvis about lessons in ethical leadership that health startups can take away from the Theranos scandal and the risks that come along with a culture of secrecy. Katie Couric took the stage with the former president of the Biden Cancer Initiative, Gregory C. Simon, to discuss innovative approaches to solving cancer, from diagnosis to cure. U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips also spoke, lauding Manova for bringing together leaders in technology, business, and innovation. “Conferences like this are needed to help Washington sort out a path forward in healthcare,” he said.