By Neela Mollgaard
Launch Minnesota Executive Director 

Launch Minnesota Network partners and startups in Northwest Minnesota highlight progress


January 6, 2021

Launch Minnesota is a statewide collaborative effort to accelerate startups and amplify Minnesota as a leader in innovation which began in the fall of 2019. In March, the Launch Minnesota Network was formed to grow and connect Minnesota’s startup ecosystem through a hub-and-spoke model that allows for regional customization while helping entrepreneurs access resources statewide.

This month, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove and I are holding three virtual roundtables with regions across the state to hear firsthand from regional partners and startups.

On Monday, we held the first of these roundtables with partners and startups from Northwest Minnesota. It was gratifying to hear from participants that they’ve seen positive changes despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dave Hengel oversees Greater Bemidji and LaunchPad, which serve as regional hub for Northwest Minnesota’s Launch MN Network. At the roundtable, he said, “I’m proud of the group we’ve put together, and we’re just getting started on the work up here in Northwest Minnesota.” Launch Minnesota provided the impetus for organizations serving startups and entrepreneurs to join forces.

One new initiative has been the NoW Navigators, which provides locally based, geographically dispersed entry points into the startup support system. Dave said the geographic size of the region “means we have to find a way to make it as comfortable and localized as possible” in helping entrepreneurs connect with resources.

Michelle Landsverk, who represents two Launch MN Network partners – Advance Thief River and Fosston Economic Development Authority – said that, as a NoW navigator, she’s seen increased awareness and communication among startups.

When asked to share some changes since being part of the Launch MN effort, Landsverk said, “I’ve seen a lot more connection in our entrepreneur community. We’re having more of a conversation, more connection, more access to resources, and I would say the culture of entrepreneurship is definitely stronger.”

Char Energy and D3D are two Launch MN innovation grantees that also joined the conversation. Entrepreneur Austin Peterson is a partner in D3D, also known as Dean Ultra Thin Retainer, which makes 3D printed orthodontic and dental products in Fosston, Minn.

The firm is growing and now has three full-time employees, but the startup’s partners considered moving when the pandemic hit. He said supportive relationships in the community – including help from NoW Navigator Landswerk – made them decide to stay in Fosston.

“COVID has really allowed us to take a breath and decide: Hey, do we want to go all in? And do we want to go all in Minnesota? And the resounding answer on both of those questions was ‘Yes.’”

Dave Hengel concluded by noting: “Launch Minnesota is so important to our region because it shines a light on entrepreneurship and – in a region that has a very strong history of entrepreneurship – it pulls out even stronger the message that we need to support our entrepreneurs.”

You can watch the virtual roundtable here.

In addition to Commissioner Grove and myself, network partners and entrepreneurs who attended the roundtable included:

• Dave Hengel, Greater Bemidji – LaunchPad, regional hub, and Launch MN advisory board member

• Brenda Baumann, Discovery and Development Hub in Warroad

• Curtis and Otto Borchert, Char Energy in Ada, Minn.

• Michelle Christopherson, University of Minnesota – Crookston

• Tiffany Fettig, Greater Bemidji Inc.

• Faith Hensrud, Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College

• Michelle Landsverk, Advance Thief River Falls and Fosston Economic Development Authority

• Paul Muller, LaunchPad in Bemidji

• Austin Peterson, Dean Ultra Thin Retainer in Fosston

• Teresa Spaeth, University of Minnesota – Crookston

• Mary Thompson, Heartland Lakes Development Commission in Park Rapids

• Ryan Zemek, Lake of the Woods Economic Development Authority in Baudette

For more about Launch Minnesota and a list of all the regional partners and their accomplishments, see Launch Minnesota’s first-year progress report.


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