Lauren Mehler Pradhan

I have spent my entire career in the food industry, and the changes happening right now in food manufacturing and production can only be described as revolutionary.

Food is no longer just fuel, but instead a topic for almost constant discussion, several 24-television networks and countless social media posts. People today want to not only know what is in their food, but also where it is grown, by whom and with what methods. This cultural shift has resulted in an explosion of entrepreneurship throughout the country as startups challenge established categories and cause the entire industry to re-evaluate its methods. Look no further than the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota.

Like many Midwest states, Minnesota does not love to talk about itself, but since I am from New Jersey originally, I will do it for them. Minnesota is home to some of the largest food and agriculture companies in the world including General Mills, Cargill, Land O’ Lakes, Schwans, and CHS. Let’s also not forget Grain Millers, SunOpta, and Old Dutch. They have inspired a thriving support ecosystem of leading design, advertising, logistics and additional service companies. This community attracts leading talent from across the country, and it is what inspired me to make a new life for myself in the Twin Cities 13 years ago.

What keeps me here? In this revolutionary time for food, the revolution is happening in our startup community. We are home to Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP, Talenti Gelato, 2Gingers Whiskey and Urban Organics. Minnesota has the largest co-op network in the country, countless farmer’s markets, networking organizations like Midwest Pantry and the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild, commercialization support through AURI as well as the University of Minnesota Extension, and grant programs through the Minnesota Dept of Agriculture. Check out programming and events from Grow North as well as the over 140 resources (and counting) in the resource navigator database. Have I mentioned we also have 10,000 lakes, incredible summers, an art show on ice in the winter and an incredible quality of life here?

Yet, what I think is unique about Minnesota’s growing food cluster is that we work collaboratively to accelerate our entrepreneur community. Support organizations, both for and not-for-profit come together to develop events, programming and share best practices. Large corporations are getting more involved, recognizing that investing in a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is key to attracting and retaining talent. This also includes entrepreneurs themselves, who will think nothing of having coffee with someone just starting out or sharing their contacts to help someone solving a problem.

This spirit of service extends to entrepreneurship in food security and justice, with innovative models coming from Appetite for Change, a non-profit using food as a lever for economic development,  Partners in Food Solutions, an organization linking corporate experts to food entrepreneurs in Africa, and Second Harvest Heartland, the largest food bank in the country.

It is all of this and more that drives our community to keep going…and growing. See it for yourself – come visit us during Twin Cities Start Up Week October 9th and see, experience, and taste what we are all about.

Lauren Mehler Pradhan is the Director of Grow North, a resource and connection hub for Minnesota’s food and agriculture entrepreneurs and its community. Get in touch and sign up for their newsletter. Grow North is a part of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship.