One of the biggest job openings in the Minnesota startup ecosystem was officially filled earlier this week when Jessica Berg took over as director of the Minnesota Cup, the state’s largest startup competition.
Berg is a Minnesota native who worked in professional services prior to taking on her new role as head of the Minnesota Cup. Most recently, she held a sales position at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Berg is also the president and co-founder of WomenConnect, an organization promoting personal and professional growth for women.
Berg’s predecessor, Melissa Kjolsing, left the Cup after five years in November. Currently, she is working on her own startup, Recovree, which she co-founded with her brother earlier this year.
Minne Inno sat down with Berg during her first week as director to discuss her interest in the Twin Cities startup scene and learn about some of her initial plans for the Minnesota Cup.
Note: This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
MI: How were you introduced to the Minnesota Cup?
JB: Melissa [Kjolsing] was one of my co-workers at my first job. We were fast friends and stayed in touch after she left for the Minnesota Cup. When she took the role, I started coming to all the events. So my introduction to the Cup was as a fan and supporter of Melissa. I feel like in some way I was part of the Cup’s journey as it grew and changed, but I never necessarily thought that I’d be leading it next.
MI: Why were you interested in the job?
JB: Professional services is such a different world. You work in these really big, private, hierarchical companies. Melissa knew me well, and she knew that it wouldn’t be my forever field. When she started thinking about what was next for her, she told me, ‘You should think about applying.’ I started to think about it this fall, and I decided to apply. I couldn’t think of a job that I’d be more excited to do. I’m very excited and lucky to be here.
MI: What will you be focusing on right away?
JB: In the first few months of 2018, I’ll be doing a lot of learning. I’ll be immersing myself into understanding all the different communities, past company participants, judges and mentors. I’m going to be doing a lot of learning from all those people, and trying to get a pulse on what they think. And overall, I’ll be advocating for the Cup as much as I can. I want to keep the buzz and momentum going so that things don’t slow down as I transition into the job.
MI: What sorts of things do you hope to work on as director?
JB: I’m passionate about supporting and advocating for communities that don’t have access to the networks and resources necessary to get a new venture off the ground. I’m excited about getting to have an impact on that while I’m here. Also, I’m grateful for how much Melissa grew the Cup, and I’m excited to stand on her shoulders after all the great things she’s done. Right now, I want to learn, and meet everyone in the community. I’ll potentially have some of my fingerprints on this first year, but it’ll be a continuation of a lot of the good things the Cup’s already been doing.
MI: What excites you about the Twin Cities startup scene?
JB: I think more and more people within the Twin Cities are considering startups, or thinking about founding a company. Minnesotans are realizing that there’s more than one way to make an impact or build a career. I think we’re slower to that than other cities because it’s just not part of the state’s DNA. But there are so many great companies working to change that. It’s a great place for [entrepreneurship], but I don’t think everybody knows that yet.