Minneapolis: Land of Lakes...and Startups


This week we’re traveling with Steve Case on the Rise of the Rest road trip to celebrate entrepreneurship, in all its forms, across America. Every day we’ll post dispatches from the cities we’ve seen. Stay tuned for updates from Des Moines, Kansas City, and St. Louis.

After driving 270 miles across the state of Wisconsin, we rolled into the Twin Cities that span the Mississippi River and spent Tuesday there. With over 3 million residents in the metro area and an impressive 18 Fortune 500 companies, including major brand names like Target and General Mills, Minneapolis and St. Paul are an economic force. There is a culture of hard work, innovation, and industrial success in the Twin Cities, so it’s not surprising that startups are increasingly becoming part of the economic landscape.

“Entrepreneurial energy is sweeping across this region,” remarked one business leader at our roundtable breakfast that kicked off another packed day of startup visits, a luncheon at the University of Minnesota, a livecast conversation with Steve Case, and finally, a pitch competition featuring ten CEOs.

We began the tour at CoCo, the nucleus of startup activity in Minneapolis, located on the historic trading floor of what was once the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. They’ve kept some of the old exchange boards intact, but on the floor are dozens of small businesses. We met teams from Zipnosis, Estate Map, Apruve, Rowbot, and others - each with a unique solution that capitalizes on existing markets and expertise in their hometown. And later, we stopped by Field Nation and Sports NGin, who’ve experienced substantial growth in the past year and have their own office spaces downtown.

Senator Amy Klobuchar also joined our crew for part of the ride. She shed light on the economic prowess of the area, (Minneapolis has the lowest unemployment rate of any major metro area, she told us), and discussed ways to support the startup community through policy and legislation as well as efforts like the Rise of the Rest.  

With Sen. Klobuchar on board, we learned about the Neighborhood Development Center, a 20-year-old organization in Minneapolis that trains, finances, and offers retail locations to low-income entrepreneurs, many of whom come from the Twin Cities' large immigrant and refugee community. The NDC’s premiere business space is the Midtown Global Market, a formerly vacant building that’s revitalized the surrounding neighborhood of South Minneapolis. The internationally themed public market hosts over 40 independent businesses selling speciality foods and products and has created 475 jobs in its time. The stories we heard here from entrepreneurs who had come to Minneapolis from all over the world were truly inspiring—a testament to how supporting entrepreneurship in its many forms can benefit a city’s residents, and its neighborhoods, at all levels of society.

The tour wrapped up at the Pitch Competition and the winner - 75F - took home $100,000 to help expand their business that makes wireless sensors and software to regulate building temperatures and thereby reduce energy use and costs.

75F winnerWhat became obvious to us during our visit to this accomplished city is that there’s still immense potential for growth in the concentration and network of startups here. There’s room for the startup community to encourage more collaboration, garner more support and become more recognized in this city where the Fortune 500 companies remain the dominant economic influence. Steve Case and the Rise of the Rest team shared ideas about how to enliven this startup ecosystem, including encouraging big businesses to become customers of smaller ones, creating opportunities for mentorship, and sponsoring more initiatives like the Minnesota Cup, an annual competition that rewards new business ideas. Considering how things are going, we look forward to seeing what the entrepreneurs of the Twin Cities do next.