StartUp Draws on Minnesota’s Legacy of Tech Innovation
Although several of my family members and friends worked at Honeywell, Sperry-Univac, Unisys, and Control Data, until founding VirtualZ, I didn’t have a full appreciation for the contributions of Minnesotans in creating the computer industry. Now I’m proud to know Minnesota has been referred to as the “Midwestern Silicon Valley.”
One of the main reasons Minnesota’s computing innovations aren’t widely known among the public is much of the work was for the military, and therefore classified. One of the first inventions by Minnesotabased Engineering Research Associates (ERA) was developed in 1947 to decipher encrypted foreign military communications, later followed by the design of a general-purpose, re-programmable computer. The US Navy later granted permission for ERA to produce a commercial version of the classified computer, which was announced in 1951. From there, the technology advanced to more sophisticated systems, such as anti-aircraft computing systems.
Another important piece of Minnesota’s computing history—and a pivotal legal case in the computing industry—is Honeywell v. Sperry-Rand, 1973. In this landmark case, the 1964 Sperry-Rand ENIAC patent was invalidated: “This ruling put the electronic, digital computer in the public domain and opened the door for free entrepreneurship and innovation within the field.” (mncomputing.com)
One of the state’s most recognized contributions to computing is IBM’s manufacturing plant in Rochester, Minnesota, but much of its history is unknown as well. According to postbulletin.com, in the 1950s, after evaluating 80 cities for their Midwest plant location, Albert L. Williams, executive vice president of IBM Corp provided several reasons for selecting Rochester, including that Minnesota workforce boasts unusual stability. The IBM Rochester plant lead to innovations in manufacturing and engineering that reached across the state and the world. These innovations resulted in “notable achievements in computer storage, computer-game chips, mid-range computers, and the landmark Blue Gene supercomputer.”
With this impactful history as a foundation, we are excited about the state’s continued investments to support and attract more high-tech start-ups to Minnesota. Most recently, “Launch Minnesota” was approved as part of the 2019 Legislative session. This new program partners with private industry to “create financial incentives and programming to demonstrate that Minnesota is committed to fostering an innovation ecosystem that draws global attention.”
In addition to Minnesota’s legacy in computing, according to SmartAsset’s Best Places for Women Entrepreneurs – 2019 Edition, the Twin Cities ranks as “the best place for women entrepreneurs in the country” and is also home to a growing ecosystem of women-led venture funds, such as the Sofia Fund, Capita3, and the local chapter of Pipeline Angels.
As a women-owned business, VirtualZ looks forward to contributing to the state’s community of female founders at this important time when awareness, funding and community are increasing for female entrepreneurs.
We’re thrilled to be part of Minnesota’s legacy in computing innovations and we applaud the state’s efforts and initiatives to recognize the vital importance of female founders and all entrepreneurs. Founders, entrepreneurs and their companies create jobs for communities, support local and global economies when procuring goods and services, and bring new innovations to market as Minnesotan’s positively impact our mutual economic well-being.