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By Neela Mollgaard
Launch Minnesota Executive Director 

Launch MN Showcases the Momentum of Our Partners and Startup Grantees in Southeast Region

 

January 12, 2021



Seventeen organizations have come together to create the E1 (Entrepreneurs First) Collaborative in Southeast Minnesota. It’s part of a Launch Minnesota initiative to improve coordination and increase capacity across the state’s startup ecosystem – helping startups access the wealth of resources available statewide.

On Jan. 7, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove and I held a virtual roundtable with partners and startups in the Southeast region – the second in a series being held across Minnesota.

Formed last March, the Launch Minnesota Network uses a first-of-its-kind hub-and-spoke model to unite six regions, seven hubs and over 60 partner organizations.

In the Southeast region, the E1 Collaborative includes nonprofits, higher education institutions, coworking spaces, economic development agencies and the private sector. During the roundtable, it was impressive to hear about the continued growth and strength of their regional startup ecosystem.

Working together to launch entrepreneurs

A key intent of the Launch Minnesota network is for regions to work collaboratively to better meet the needs of entrepreneurs. Sam Ziegler, director of GreenSeam – an E1 member based in Mankato – talked about the collaborative spirit, noting they aren’t territorial. “It’s a group that says: ‘I don’t care if an entrepreneur starts in Northfield or starts in Austin, it’s going to help our region. How do we help that entrepreneur?’"

"A lot of time and effort by all of the partners has been required to move the 17 E1 organizations from merely “information sharing to being truly collaborative,” said Stacy Nimmo, executive director of Red Wing Ignite, the regional hub. She thanked DEED and Launch MN for “making this collaboration possible.”

Startups are accelerating

Five Launch Minnesota innovation grantees from the region took part in the conversation:

• Clarence Bischoff, founder and president of Blue Water Farms in Welch, an agricultural startup that uses recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) technology to produce walleye and plant products

• Anna Haugo, founder of Cytotheryx in Rochester, a bio research/biotech company working to expand the supply of human liver cells available for research and clinical applications

• Susan Langer, founder and CEO of Live.Give.Save in Red Wing, a financial technology platform that helps millennials and others manage their budget, save and donate

• Keith Kallmes, director of business development with Marblehead Medical in Rochester, a medical technology firm which has FDA clearance to make an easier-to-use balloon-guided catheter for treatment of stroke patients

• Robbie Spencer, marketing manager with Nanodropper in Rochester, a startup that makes a special adaptor which twists onto eyedropper bottles to reduce droplet size to help avoid waste and save money on medicated eyedrops for patients with diseases like glaucoma

Entrepreneur Susan Langer, with Live.Give.Save, called the Launch Minnesota innovation grant her firm received last year a “game changer” – but added that support from partners in the regional network has also been key. “I see the E1 as being like a sherpa in helping us access the different resources,” she said. “It’s very helpful.”

Nanodropper was able to hire a new person to help expand the product to the market. Robbie Spencer with Nanodropper said, “I want to thank all of you because I was able to be hired because of Nanodropper’s Launch Minnesota grant. I’m here today because of all of your hard work.”

Cytotheryx benefited from student interns from regional higher ed partners to help increase capacity in their business.

Fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs

Higher education institutions play a critical role in innovation ecosystem. The E1 higher education partners include: St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona, St. Olaf College in Northfield, University of Minnesota Extension in Rochester, and Winona State University.

One area of momentum and excitement has been E1’s increasing capacity to help college-age entrepreneurs. “Since June, I’ve placed over 60 students in projects or jobs or internships with startups or small businesses, and the collaboration with St. Olaf and St. Mary’s has been phenomenal, so I see nothing but growth ahead for us,” said Will Kitchen, director of Innovative Community Engagement and StartUp Winona State.

“It’s crucial for our young people to understand that there is an ecosystem out there for them, and that we are creating a culture of creativity and innovation,” he added.

“One of the best points of leverage for us is being able to connect students to the specific industry that they’re looking to start their venture within and with one another,” said Margaret Bransford, associate director of entrepreneurship and outreach with St. Olaf College, citing a recent example.

Start your business here; no need to move

Christine Beech, executive director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at St. Mary’s University in Winona and a Launch Minnesota advisory board member, summed up E1 Collaborative’s message:

“This is a great place to start a business because you have an incredible network of people who want to assist you. The ecosystem is really powerful in the Southeast region of the state. You don’t have to move to the Twin Cities or the coasts to start a business. You can do it right here.”

Commissioner Grove and I want to thank all the partners for the important work they’re doing every day – benefitting not just startups and entrepreneurs, but the economy of the region and the state as a whole.

Find out more:

• Watch the Southeast MN virtual roundtable here

• Check out this 1-minute video about Launch MN’s Southeast Region

• Read about our Northwest MN roundtable held on Jan. 4

• See our first-year progress report for more about Launch Minnesota and our partners

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

• Stacy Nimmo, Marshall Erickson and Shannan Harris, Red Wing Ignite, regional hub Jamie Sundsbak, Collider Foundation, Rochester

• Chris Schad, Destination Medical Center EDA, Rochester

• Sam Ziegler and Garrett Lieffring, GreenSeam, Mankato

• Juan Pablo Higuera, Hispanic Advocacy & Community Empowerment Through Research

• Sean Williams, Rochester Area Economic Development Inc.

• Christine Beech, St. Mary’s University – Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, Winona, and Launch Minnesota advisory board member

• Margaret Bransford and students from St. Olaf College, Northfield

• Mark Thein, Small Business Development Center, Rochester

• Pam Bishop, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

• Jennifer Hawkins, University of Minnesota Extension, Rochester

• Will Kitchen, Winona State University – Startup Winona State

 

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