Welcome, and thank you for being a part of Starting Up North!
Starting Up North is a place where we can tell the stories and share the knowledge of Minnesota’s startup and innovation community. Starting Up North is a new way to break down knowledge silos and shine a light on the people and issues that deserve to be talked about. But above all, Starting Up North is a labor of love.
Up north here we’ve got a pretty special place, one that deserves to be a hub of business, innovation and startups for years to come. While MN may already be home to 18 Fortune 500 companies (not to mention the largest privately held company in the US), there’s an opportunity to increase the talent and dollars coming to our region by continuing to grow and connect our startup ecosystem. Minnesota’s large companies can find opportunities to strategically invest in the future of their industry and de-risk their efforts in new and emerging industries. By staying engaged with our local startup scene, their employees can find innovative and fun solutions for their work or personal life, and even potential future investments.
For this growth to occur, our business community needs to know what’s going on in our own backyard. We need to hear stories like that of Dario Otero’s efforts to increase entrepreneurism, or the U of M’s efforts to bring cutting-edge technology to market via new startups, or the working reality for startup employees who are not the founders.
Starting Up North will bring you all of these stories, from longer feature pieces that give insight into the broader community to short profiles of specific companies to how-to guides contributed by experts at local startups. You can read more about how our content is structured and sorted on our about page.
Before I get to the meat of my letter (and it is meaty), I’d be remiss if I let this opportunity to say thank you pass. Thank you to Jeffery Bennett, Sarah Kalhorn, Graeme Thickins, Beth Meyer, Bill Brown and many others for the belief and encouragement that you have given me since the birth of this idea. Thank you to our writers and contributors for taking a leap of faith with me.
Lastly, thanks to you, reader, for visiting the site and taking time to read hopefully not only this but many of the articles you find here. Your willingness to read our content, share our links and give us feedback about Starting Up North is critical to our success.
In fact, I’m going to ask for your input, right here at the start, on a kind of important question when it comes to our coverage.
What exactly is a startup?
More than any other question or challenge with Starting Up North, I have struggled with a concept that, one could argue, is central to deciding what to cover. What exactly is a startup?
If all startups are business enterprises that are new, does it follow that all new business enterprises are startups?
To the vast majority of people I’ve spoken with or read the opinions of, age is not the only factor that defines a startup. Up until a few weeks ago, I would have told you with conviction that no, that new dentist’s office isn’t a startup, that new franchise isn’t a startup, and that coffee shop down the street isn’t a startup. But I have to wonder … why not? What test do they not pass?
I’ve spoken to many people and even asked social media to weigh in, and I’ve put together a list of the factors that people have brought up in trying to answer this weighted question. For basically every attribute I’ve run into an argument, most often in my own head, as to why it is too inclusive or not inclusive enough.
So I’m opening it up to you to help us discuss and define this term. While I may have opinions (some of them quite strong) on the different attributes listed below, I’ve chosen not to include them, so as not to influence you unduly. I couldn’t resist including several discussion questions, though. Take a look at the attributes below and let us know what you think:
Age — How long a company has been in business. Is a startup only a new venture, and when does it stop being new?
Team — The total number of employees (minimum and maximum). Do two people a startup make? Do you stop being a startup after your 50th hire? Your 500th?
Impact — The long-term goals and purpose of the company. Is impact always only financial?
Scaling/Growth — How big could the company get?
Revenue — A maximum average recurring revenue.
Valuation — A maximum valuation.
Funding — Specifically the mechanisms by which they are funded: venture, debt, bootstrapping. Are startups by definition venture funded?
Profitability — Does a startup cease to be a startup when it hits profitability?
Area of Focus — The startups we hear the most about and, often, think the most about are in “tech.” But what about those building a new consumer packaged goods brand, or creating social impact, or, I don’t know, building a new publication?
Product — Does a company sell products or provide services? And does one or the other indicate the company is a startup?
Maybe you think all of these factors should be considered, or perhaps only one or some small combination. This comment-versation will definitely influence the way that Starting Up North decides to define “startup,” and we’ll share our definition in the next issue. So please weigh in on the topic. Try to persuade us one way or the other, and, while you’re at it, check out the other content that covers just some of the interesting things happening here in Minnesota.
Enjoy the reads,