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Minnesota Cup entrepreneur competition is one key to our state’s future

The statewide effort focuses on aspiring entrepreneurs and their breakthrough ideas, whether the concept is high-tech or no-tech, just formally taking shape or a venture already under way.

Last Tuesday’s turnout at the James J. Hill Library for the Minnesota Cup Semifinalist kickoff was impressive and quite large for an event of its kind. In attendance were 125 to 140 entrepreneurs, investors, sponsors, Minnesota Cup judges and those of us covering the event (Minnov8 and as well as the people who were the entire reason for the kickoff itself: the semifinalists.

The Minnesota Cup is an annual, statewide competition that seeks out aspiring entrepreneurs and their breakthrough ideas and is open to all entrepreneurs, whether your breakthrough idea is high-tech or no-tech, whether you are just putting your ideas into a business plan or if you’ve already been actively building your venture for some time.

After some initial networking and refreshments, the evening festivities were kicked off by Anne Rasmussen, James J. Hill Library CFO/COO. She dropped some factoids on us about the Hill Library being one of the top business libraries in the nation and fully self-supporting. She ended her remarks by referring to how fitting it was that the entrepreneurs in attendance were sitting beneath a portrait of James Jerome Hill himself (shown here).

As longtime Minnesotans know, Hill was an incredibly successful entrepreneur who began his railroad empire in the 19th century and whose heirs established the library. (One factoid she didn’t mention — and one I’ve always found intriguing — was the supposed inspiration Hill’s life and empire building gave Ayn Rand for her character Nathaniel Taggart in her novel “Atlas Shrugged”).

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Next up was Scott Litman, co-founder of the Minnesota Cup (along with his business partner, Dan Mallin). Scott walked through the particulars of participating in the competition, what it took to deliver on it successfully as a competitor and a bit about the prize money. He gave the semifinalists the information necessary to complete their business plans and submit them by the 11:59 p.m. deadline of July 23. (On a humorous note, Scott mentioned that historically something like one-third of the plans are submitted within the final six hours!).

Scott then introduced several other folks who had remarks for the semifinalists about the reasons they were participating and why the Cup was such an important endeavor:

  • John Stavig, professional director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Management, discussed the imperatives for our state in being catalysts for entrepreneurial activity and ensuring innovation occurs here.
  • Mary Mathews, CEO of the Northeast Entrepreneur Fund, represented the Arrowhead Growth Alliance described how their group — northeast Minnesota CEOs who’ve been meeting once a quarter for 20 years — decided to participate in the Minnesota Cup instead of doing their own thing because the Cup was so well established and already enjoyed gubernatorial support and considerable momentum (she also mentioned that seven of the semi-finalists are from their alliance).
  • Joan Moser of Spoken Impact demonstrated how to present and wow investors by telling a story and emphasizing how to engage and focus one’s message and value proposition as a startup.
  • Michael Wilmott, consul and trade commissioner, Technology Partnering, Consulate General of Canada, talked about historical investments they’ve made here and the motivations they have to discover ways to participate in Minnesota’s success.

From the categories within which each semifinalist falls, it certainly appears there are some fabulous and innovative startups being (or already) launched in Minnesota. Don’t believe me? Then look here, click on any given semifinalist’s link, and check them out for yourself. The divisions are:

  • Clean Technology and Renewable Energy
  • BioSciences
  • High Tech
  • Social Entrepreneur
  • General
  • Student

The one thing that Scott Litman presented (which you should take to heart if you’re an entrepreneur) was his strong message that the Minnesota Cup is truly an open competition and that judging is based on the merits of the startup. Scott also gave us audience members the motivation to prod the startups and entrepreneurs we know who’ve not yet participated to make sure they participate the next time around.

Clockwise from upper left: J.J. Hill Library in downtown St. Paul; the venue just before most people arrived; semifinalists Jon Coudron (MinuteBids) & Adam Sellke (Evolve); Scott Litman kicking off the event; a partial audience view; Joseph Reuter (Curation Station)

If you’d like to read numerous other perspectives on the Minnesota Cup and why this is such an important and worthwhile adventure for the future of innovation in Minnesota, just head over to the Cup’s In The News and read a few featured articles.