Tech.mn is writing a series on innovation in Minnesota. In Northeast MN, they have focused on Innovate 218, an organization that focused on promoting and facilitating entrepreneurialism in the area. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll see some familiar names or folks who are involved…
Finding these startups and providing them with a one-stop shop for resources is what Innovate 218 is all about.
“These organizations in the region already existed — small business development, universities — but it’s bringing us together so we’re a more holistic, cohesive resource for entrepreneurs,” White said. “Together we’re stronger.”
An entrepreneur himself having started six companies, White admitted that it previously was confusing to access resources. Now, with funding from Launch Minnesota to create Innovate 218, it’s much more approachable and gives access to services in one place, he said.
“It’s been a great catalyst for bringing these groups together,” White added. “It’s not necessarily that we’re creating much ‘new,’ but organizing it in a way that makes it more accessible.”
“We’re full-on in the launch phase,” Tamara Lowney, President of the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), said of the region’s efforts to build a platform for entrepreneurs where they can get the resources they need.
Betsy Olivanti of NSBDC had similar sentiments. “There are a lot of creative folks and a lot of interesting things going on, [but] they don’t know how to get from idea to creation,” she said.
In her work — which she comes to with an engineering background, ISO certification, and lean certification — she’s noticed that folks tend to think of themselves as “inventors” instead of “entrepreneurs.”
“My work at Innovate 218 is to marry those two things. You are an entrepreneur as well — [it’s] bringing the two sides together,” Olivanti said.
Olivanti and Lowney are both working to bring entrepreneurs out through multiple initiatives: entrepreneur meetups, pop-up coworking spaces at a local coffee shop in Virginia, MN called “jellies,” and events like the Itasca Summit. Innovation was one of the key tracks at this economic development summit, which was held in Grand Rapids October 19 and 20. It brought together state and regional leaders working to inspire and support more innovation and startup entrepreneurship in the region.
One of the organizations participating in the Itasca Summit was the Blandin Foundation, which is a highly influential organization in the region on many fronts, and is a major contributor and supporter of the Itasca Business Development Corporation.