Nearly 150 years ago, General Cadwallader Washburn and Charles Pillsbury set up mills along the Mississippi, introducing scalable food-processing and global food distribution. A short time later, William Worrall Mayo moved to Rochester, and with the help of his two sons and the Sisters of Saint Francis, they would invent what are now standard practices of patient care, while building the world’s premier healthcare destination—the Mayo Clinic.
In 1952, Walt Lillehei—a professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Minnesota participated in the first successful heart surgery. A short time later, Earl Bakken developed the first external, battery-powered pacemaker. His commercial efforts led to founding of Medtronic, while establishing Minnesota as an international leader in medical device development.
From the 1950s through the mid-’80s, Minnesota became the Mecca of supercomputing, though most of the work couldn’t be talked about. During that time, companies like Engineering Research Associates, Control Data, Cray, and Honeywell worked on secret government projects involving code breaking, national defense, and more, earning us the title of “the Land of 10,000 Top-Secret Computer Projects.” Their efforts continue to power the world’s most complicated and critical IT infrastructures.
Smattered in my timeline, you also have retail leaders like Richard Schultz (of Best Buy) and the Daytons (now Target), 3D printing pioneers Lisa and Scott Crump (with Stratasys), Prince, and nearly all female and minority-built innovations left out of the history books. Fast-forward to today and you’re looking at a very special place, with a diversified economy, that is home to many of the world’s leading companies in industries that feed the world and keep it safe.
The point of this history lesson is this—though there is much to celebrate about the recent wave of entrepreneurial activity and enthusiasm, this isn’t anything new; this is who we always have been— the place where people solve the world’s greatest problems.
So, what’s next for Minnesota’s startup ecosystem?
It’s a call to action. For anyone admiring the work being done here from a distance, please join us. Move here, join us for things like Twin Cities Startup Week, or visit, even if just for one day. If you can’t make it, then follow along and/or send your friends. We want your best and brightest. We want those who recognize that genius comes in all forms, and that the time for solving big problems is also right now.
If you’re already actively involved in the community, go one step further—invite a friend, share what you’re seeing/learning with your network, encourage your employees to participate in the programming, and make time to be inspired.
The future of this startup ecosystem is a bigger tent, with room for global partners. It’s a cure for Type I Diabetes. It’s the elimination of senior fraud. It’s an affordable, distributed energy grid. It’s an idea hatched in a hackathon and scaled to the world by one of our leading global institutions. It’s 20 years from now when we look back at the time when we conceived our next Fortune 500, or two. It’s a time to take risks and to build something new, because that’s what we do here. Our future is you.