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Innovation + Job News

SVL helping to transform MSP into national tech hub

Startup Venture Loft (SVL) tripled its physical footprint with a move into an 8,500 square foot space in the North Loop’s McKesson Building last September. The new digs were the final piece of a year-long rebranding and restructuring process that transformed SVL from Healthcare.mn, a healthcare-focused business accelerator, into a coworking hub and incubator for “investable startup companies with high growth potential,” says owner and executive director Peter Kane.
“Expanding to an 8,500 square foot space grabs people’s attention and lets them know we’re serious,” says Kane, who wants to “make the Twin Cities the best place in the country to launch a startup.”
Thirty early stage companies mostly in the healthcare and technology sectors now rent space at SVL, up from just five in November 2013. Healthcare.mn remains an SVL tenant.
Turning the Twin Cities into a tech hub requires a self-contained ecosystem of entrepreneurs and talented knowledge workers, plus venture capital funds, angel investors and service providers such as intellectual property lawyers and marketing specialists, who support and promote entrepreneurial efforts.
Kane cites Chicago—a city not known for its technology industry until recently—as a model for the Twin Cities. 1871 is the beating heart of Chicago’s tech startup scene, with tenants ranging from idea-stage one-person companies to established VC funds that funnel capital into proven technology concepts. Decision-makers from big technology and healthcare firms, including Google, either rent space in or routinely visit 1871, providing startups with access to larger, more lucrative markets and creating buyout opportunities—known as “exit strategies” in startup parlance.
SVL also aims to bridge a generational and cultural gap that hinders local startups’ growth. Many Twin Cities entrepreneurs, especially in tech and healthcare, are Millennials with different values and business strategies than the older, more experienced executives and investors they typically pitch ideas to. Kane’s two previous startups both failed in part, he says, because established company executives didn’t take him seriously.
“Our culture is somewhat risk averse, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” says Kane. “But [decision makers] want to know that you’ve been vetted, and that’s a tough sell when you’re a 20-something entrepreneur and everyone across the table from you is a baby boomer Pharm.D.”
“The response is often ‘who are you’ and ‘why should I trust that you know what you’re doing,’” he adds. “There isn’t the sort of informal vetting network that exists in more established tech centers like Silicon Valley and New York.” Kane wants SVL to be a core node in that network. With the support of a competent, technology-driven community, entrepreneurs associated with SVL would have a de facto stamp of approval from investors and corporate decision makers.
Bringing entrepreneurs and business leaders together also requires a mature digital media sector that trumpets the Twin Cities’ startup scene as worth of national and international attention—and investment.
“We’re not always great at telling our story [in the Twin Cities],” says Kane. “We need a beacon—the media—that churns out stories with national appeal and raises the local startup scene’s profile to where it needs to be.”
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