Exploring Saint Paul Innovation During Twin Cities Startup Week

Ayanfe Adewoye
Nov 19, 2019 · 5 min read

What do you get when you bring together hundreds of technology and entrepreneurial thought leaders? You get one of the hottest events in the Midwest: Twin Cities Startup Week. For six years, this seven-day conference has drawn some of the most talented investors, entrepreneurs, and innovators from all four corners of the country to connect, learn, and explore Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Twin Cities Startup Week is a dynamic, interactive event that encourages participants to explore both Minneapolis and Saint Paul while expanding their knowledge of tech and innovation. New this year was an art installation in Saint Paul’s innovation hub, Osborn 370, where attendees could learn about Twin Cities entrepreneurial culture. Created by 26Letters Founder Caroline Karanja in coordination with other local artists, the installation showcased three core themes:

  • Creative Economy, the celebration of all creatives and the art of their craft;
  • Food Startup, the numerous food and agricultural businesses that are diversifying what we eat and facilitating more sustainable agricultural practices; and
  • Womxn Centered, the celebration of the womxn and femme-identifying innovators in the entrepreneurial space.

Over the past few years, local tech and innovation leaders have been coordinating efforts and driving more attention to one big tech and innovation week. This year, Techstars’ Farm to Fork Demo Day, MEDA’s Million Dollar Challenge, Grow North’s Food, Ag Ideas Week, MN FinTech Collective’s Future Finance Forum, and Ed North’s Ed Tech Track all took place between Oct 9–16 in Saint Paul. Here are a few things that I learned from some of these Saint Paul-based events in three different innovation categories.

Food & Agriculture: Techstars Farm to Fork Demo Day 2019

Techstars Farm to Fork Demo Day was a celebration of ten founders in the Farm to Fork Program, an initiative sponsored by Cargill and Ecolab, which focuses on the tech/digital side of food and agriculture. Each founder presented about their business model, and what captivated me the most was hearing how their business was going to better the world. Many of these businesses differ in scope, but something they have in common among themselves and with other global companies is their interest in relocating to Saint Paul.

One Canada-based company relocating to Saint Paul is Otrafy. Their goal? To simplify and automate regulatory and certification compliance in food production facilities in order to improve efficiency. CEO Nhat Nguyen told me his business is moving to Saint Paul because “many of our key customers are here in the metro area, and Saint Paul’s tech scene has been incredibly helpful. Events like Twin Cities Startup Week have helped me connect with other entrepreneurs and investors.”

Impact & Inclusion: The 2019 ConnectUP! State of the Work Report

Last year, Morgan Stanley’s report “The Trillion-Dollar Blind Spot” revealed a harsh reality in the entrepreneurship funding landscape: eight in ten investors perceive entrepreneurship funding as balanced, regardless of gender or race. However, the complete opposite is true as women and people-of-color (POC) receive significantly less investments. This systemic gap represents a missed opportunity of $4.4 trillion dollars and negatively impacts local economies as POC and women entrepreneurs lack capital to give back to their communities.

Y. Elaine Rasmussen and Stephannie L. Lewis explored these systemic barriers in their interactive seminar, and shared their approach towards helping solve this problem. Rasmussen’s organization, ConnectUp! MN, looks to bridge the separation between investors looking for startups to invest in and entrepreneurs from marginalized communities. This initiative helps to close the capital demand gap for women, LGBTQ+, and POC. It also helps impact investors to learn about these startup businesses as direct investment opportunities. Other local organizations working towards significantly increasing investment and support for women, LGBTQ+, and POC entrepreneurs include The Coven and Lunar Startups.

EdTech & Training: Design for Learning in the Age of AI

Educational technology, or the use of technology to facilitate and improve learning performance, has crucial implications for the future of our world. Redesigning learning spaces by incorporating educational technology can have a profound impact not only on students, but also teachers, parents, and the surrounding community. The EdTech & Training events, hosted by Amazon Web Services at Osborn370, explored these facts in great detail, including how efficiently designed renovations can have a huge economic and energy impact. According to Randy Fielding, founding chairman of world-renowned school design firm Fielding Nair International, well-designed learning spaces can save more than 150 billion dollars in construction and energy use each year worldwide.

How can we empower local members in our community that want to re-design learning spaces in order to improve learning outcomes? One institution in Saint Paul, Concordia University, has an Educational Technology program designed to help “prepare teachers to utilize technology most effectively to enhance student achievement.” While often overlooked, having optimal space design for students is important in their learning as not all students respond the same way to their learning spaces.

The cherry on top of the events during the week was the annual Startup Week Awards, where over 2,000 votes were cast recognizing different businesses and startups that have accomplished great things in the past year. Emceed by Nancy Lyons, local CEO, entrepreneur, and all-around good human who with a mix of her hilarious zingers and powerful insights about each of the Startup Week Award winners, formally wrapped up the festivities on an aspirational note as she encouraged each entrepreneur, innovator, and person to consider how they could give back to their community.

The awards, alongside the numerous events and topics in Twin Cities Startup Week, embody the inclusive and ambitious spirit of the entrepreneurial community in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. If you’re interested in being a part of this up-and-coming tech scene check out the City of Saint Paul mini-guide on how to start your business in the city.

About Full Stack Saint Paul

Full Stack Saint Paul is a public and private collaboration between the City of Saint Paul and the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce to help tech and innovation sector businesses start up and scale up in Saint Paul, and build upon the history of businesses that have already contributed to the tech and innovation ecosystem. We promote the story of innovation in Saint Paul, support talent pipelines, and facilitate the ecosystem for innovative companies.

    Ayanfe Adewoye

    Written by

    Communications Specialist at NewPublica by day, Saint Paul aficionado by night. I write about the city’s tech & innovation scene for Full Stack Saint Paul.

    Full Stack Saint Paul

    Full Stack Saint Paul is here to showcase Saint Paul’s inclusive and talented innovation culture, along with its legacy and future. Read more at https://www.stpaul.gov/businesses/open-business/full-stack-saint-paul

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