#StartupsEverywhere Profile: John Machacek, Senior Vice President of Finance & Entrepreneurial Development, the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation
This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.
What’s your role in the Fargo area startup ecosystem?
On a macro level, one of my main responsibilities is elevating the idea of being an entrepreneur and the importance of entrepreneurs to our economy. Increasing the awareness and support of entrepreneurial development helps connect startups, builds confidence among entrepreneurs, and portrays our community as a great place to build a business. The combination of the messaging and public events coming from a traditional economic development organization like ours, as well as a non-traditional entity like Emerging Prairie, helps convey this to a variety of audiences.
On a micro level, I also make a strong effort to get to know local entrepreneurs on an individual level and being a reliable resource for them. The Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation (GFMEDC) looks to engage with these startups to listen to their story, learn what they need, and help them immediately or down the road. Building these trusted relationships with the entrepreneurs strengthens the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Can you tell us more about GFMEDC and its goals in the greater Fargo area?
Our mission is to be a catalyst for economic growth and prosperity. Using a comprehensive approach to economic development, the GFMEDC accelerates job and wealth creation in Cass County, ND and Clay County, MN. To do this, we strategically pursue job creation and business attraction, work educational institutions and industry to ensure a strong talent pipeline, and create collaboration between public and private sectors.
What’s the most exciting thing that has happened in Fargo in the past year?
That’s tough to say. While there have been some large-scale, successful events organized by Emerging Prairie, like the Drone Focus Conference and a visit by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, I think it’s been most exciting to see some stories of success from our startups. For example, Myriad Mobile raised $1.5 million for their agtech product, Bushel, which is an industry-first mobile grain app platform. Another local company, CoSchedule, just attracted $2.2 million moved into a brand new 14,000 square foot facility in downtown Fargo.
What makes Fargo an ideal place to start a company?
We not only have a friendly economic climate but we have friendly, collaborative people. There is so much collaboration between government, education, industry, providers, startups and just others who want to see others succeed. Many of these people -- school officials, entrepreneurs, bankers, etc. -- see themselves as part of the same team so their work is not totally self-serving or ego-driven. I’ve grown accustomed to it now, but it is always fun to see the reaction of the entrepreneurs who either start here or move here, as they see what it is like.
What is the biggest challenge you face in Fargo?
Overall, we are have workforce issues. While our population continues to quickly grow, it still has had trouble keeping pace with our economy. We are attracting talent to the area, but we still need more. Ultimately, the industries that have it the worst are the ones we don’t deal with directly, but still play an important role in the quality of life of the community, like hospitality and retail. Having said that, we also need to fill the growth in healthcare, IT and engineering.
What are some of the inputs that have helped your ecosystem grow?
The partnership between our organization, GFMEDC, and Emerging Prairie has yielded a lot of exciting things. Our first collaboration was to organize the city’s first Startup Weekend, which was a real catalyst for momentum here. Emerging Prairie has also done an excellent job of putting on events that get people together to innovate, as well using their website to highlight the many players of the ecosystem. Another success story is 1 Million Cups. It averages about 150 people with some weeks exceeding 300. It has helped to build up the idea of being an entrepreneur and really pumps confidence into the startups.
Are there specific public policies or regulatory landscape features that have enabled startup growth in Fargo?
We have a business-friendly state government that has worked hard to develop some beneficial programs. For example, Innovate ND operates at several entrepreneurial centers offering bootcamp-type classes with expense reimbursement grants. We also have a state-owned bank (the only one in the nation) that has been startup-friendly and works with area banks to partner on financing. Finally, our state department of commerce has established a development fund, which has played a major role in the funding of many companies over the years.
What are the startups to watch coming out of the Fargo area?
CoSchedule, a calendar platform for marketing teams, has been growing so rapidly lately – they may have the most noticeable and explosive growth. Others of note are:
OmniByte Technology, which provides mobile, web, and automation solutions and services for field service organizations;
Protosthetics, a company that uses 3D printers to print prosthetics;
Myriad Mobile, a software company that develops mobile apps; and
PHR Plus, which is facilitating interoperability by allowing patients to connect all of their health and medical information on one, secure platform.