Facebook, Snapchat, Modcloth, WordPress, Dropbox and Insomnia Cookies are all not only some of today’s most successful companies, they’re also all ventures that were started while the founders were still in college.
But you don’t just have to go to the coasts to find the college student-turned entrepreneur: Here in the Twin Cities a number of ventures (such as Homi, Protégé Biomedical, Asiya and Buddy’s Nut Butters) were founded by students. And if you’re a student at a Minnesota college or university, you could be next.
While a little quieter than the Bay Area, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is consistently ranked as one of the fastest growing startup hubs in the country and among the top ecosystems the Midwest. With a unique mix of Fortune 500 companies investing in the startup ecosystem, a tight-knit grassroots community, and a strong university ecosystem, the Twin Cities has been a springboard for many successful startups.
The next dorm room success story is yours to tell. Here’s a look at the resources you need to get started, along with advice from student entrepreneurs.
While it can be a challenge to juggle coursework and launching a venture, being in a university setting also allows you to take advantage of university resources.
“As a college student, you have all the resources at your disposal,” said Phil Xiao, who cofounded his startup Homi, a digital platform that helps students build mentor-mentee relationships, while a student at Carleton College.
“You have access to a computer science department where if you’re a business founder you can find a technical cofounder,” he explained. “You have access to what’s likely a cinema or media studies department where you can find someone to help you create videos and market [your idea]. Then you have a bunch of people who have to listen to you because they’re on campus with you…So the conditions are actually perfect for testing out a hypothesis or running a business.”
Many Twin Cities and greater Minnesota colleges and universities have entrepreneurship programs and dedicated centers devoted to helping students with their entrepreneurial pursuits. Here’s a look at some of the most prominent entrepreneurship resources at Minnesota schools:
- University of Minnesota: Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship
- University of St. Thomas: Schulze School of Entrepreneurship
- Macalester College: Mac Entrepreneurship
- Hamline University: School of Business
- St. Catherine’s University: Katies Entrepreneur Organization
- Minneapolis College of Art and Design: Entrepreneurial Studies
- St. Olaf College: The Finstad Program
- Carleton College: Entrepreneurship program
- The College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University: Donald McNeeley Center for Entrepreneurship
- St. Mary’s University: Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies
- University of Minnesota Duluth: Labovitz School of Business and Economics
- Gustavus Adolphus College: Entrepreneurship resources
- Bethel College: Innovation and Entrepreneurship program
You’re going to need some funding to get any venture off the ground. But there are quite a few options when it comes to financing a new venture.
A few options include: bootstrapping (dig into your savings, use earnings from a side job, or grow as you make revenue), friends and family (hit up Mom, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents–you get the picture), pitch competitions (explain your idea to a panel of judges who award small amounts of funding), crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe), equity crowdfunding (like crowdfunding, but instead of rewards your backers own a part of your business), angel investors (individual investors that provide funding usually at earlier stage of traction), and venture capital funding (capital that comes in starting at the seed round).
Xiao, who’s raised $500,000 for Homi, said he utilized alumni networks to connect with mentors, some of whom eventually became investors.
“When we moved to Minneapolis, I didn’t know anyone,” he said. “I just emailed every single Carleton alum who was doing tech or startups in the Twin Cities and ran around town knocking on doors. That’s what entrepreneurship is about, realizing that there’s a lot you’re not good at or you don’t know, and having the grit and willingness to go do it.”
Here’s a look at options for funding your startup in the Twin Cities.
- Minnesota Cup
- Future Founder’s U.Pitch
- Student Startup Madness
- University of Minnesota: BizPitch Contest
- St. Thomas: Fowler Business Concept Challenge
- St. Thomas: Business Plan Competition
- Gustavus: Gustie Entrepreneur Cup
- University of Minnesota: Discovery Capital Investment Program
- Carleton: Startup Fellowship
- University of Minnesota: Entrepreneurship in Action
- St. Olaf: Entrepreneurial Grants
- St. Thomas: The William C. Norris Institute
- Gustavus: Seed money grants
- Macalester: Live it Dream it Fund
- National venture funds focused on investing in students
Angel investors and Venture Capital
This post has a more expansive list of angel groups and VC firms in the Twin Cities, but here are a few funds to keep your eye on.
- Arthur Ventures
- Loup Ventures
- Sofia Fund
- Gopher Angels
- Twin Cities Angels
- Matchstick Ventures
- Brightstone VC
- Cairn Venture Partners
- Minnesota Venture Capital Association
You never know the lessons, advice, mentorship, or new colleague you might find unless you get into the community and start talking to people and listening to the experts.
Jamie Glover, who cofounded modest activewear startup Asiya, while pursuing her MBA at University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Business, said she tailored her course schedule to focus on launching a business and used office hours to ask professors advice on how to use course concepts in her startup. “Professors were more than happy to engage with me in this way, and it helped me get a lot more value out of each course as well,” she told Minne Inno over email.
Asiya also participated in the MN Cup, which connected Glover with a wider network in the Twin Cities.
“We were introduced to a great community of entrepreneurs through the MN Cup start-up competition,” she told Minne Inno over email. “We met both fellow contestants, but also were matched with mentors through the process that helped us learn from successful business leaders in our community. It was a tremendously valuable experience!”
Take a look at this list of events, meetups, and organizations to get involved with as you grow.
- Twin Cities Startup Week
- Beta.mn Showcase
- Inno U
- UMD Entrepreneurship Conference
- Hack the Gap
- Twin Cities Code Camp
- MN Cup
- Girl Develop It
- 1 Million Cups-St. Paul
- Black in Tech
- Startup Grind
- IoT Fuse
- Tech-related meetups in the Twin Cities
- Entrepreneurship-related meetups in the Twin Cities
Ok, it’s time to get to work.
While the library is always an available (and free) workspace, launching a startup often requires additional support and resources. Coworking spaces and maker spaces provide a network of like-minded workers and access to tools, as well as the option for dedicated workspace as your team grows.
Accelerators and incubators can provide mentorship and funding necessary to get your venture to the next level. Macalester College senior Vivi Gregorich worked on Secret League, an app that helps people coordinate pickup basketball games, through MacStartups, Macalester’s summer accelerator for student startups.
“MacStartups is also an extremely valuable resource,” she told Minne Inno over email. “They give all of the selected students a stipend and project funding. I, personally, would not have been able to justify spending a summer getting the app ready for launch if it weren’t for the financial resources.”
Even if you’re not ready or interested in starting your own venture, but want to get involved in a company at the early stage, an internship at a local startup may be your foot in the door.
Tech Dot MN has a great overview of all the coworking options available in the Twin Cities, so be sure to check that out. Here’s an overview of a selection of spaces you should definitely know.
- COCO: This locally-started coworking company has four locations across the Twin Cities (as well as one in Chicago) and is part of the Google for Entrepreneurs network.
- Industrious: This coworking company has two Minneapolis locations: Downtown and North Loop.
- The Pitch: The first and only sports-focused coworking space in the country, located directly next to SportsEngine’s headquarters.
- Impact Hub: A civic-minded coworking space, incubator and event host, focused on social impact.
- WeWork: This fast-growing international coworking startup will open its first Minneapolis coworking space in October.
Accelerators and incubators
- Great North Labs
- Techstars Retail
- Redwing Ignite
- Land O’ Lakes Dairy Accelerator
- Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator
- Treehouse Health
- University of Minnesota: E-ternship Program
- St. Olaf: Mayo Innovation Program
- St. Thomas: Entrepreneurial Fellows
- Macalester: MacNest
One of the most important things you can do when considering starting your own business is to be knowledgeable about the startup landscape already out there. Following local media outlets offers an opportunity for you to both stay informed on the daily news and connect with entrepreneurs and organizers who can provide advice and access to resources.
- Minne Inno (Twitter, Facebook)
- Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal (Twitter, Facebook)
- Star Tribune Business (Twitter, Facebook)
- Pioneer Press Business (Twitter, Facebook)
- Tech Dot MN (Twitter, Facebook)
- Rochester Rising (Twitter, Facebook)
Image credit: Pexels