UMN Supporting State Effort to Bolster Startups, Innovation

UMN Pedestrian Bridge and MPLS skyline

The state is looking to expand Minnesota’s role as a national leader in innovation—and University of Minnesota experts are lending their support.

Launch Minnesota, an initiative started by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) in 2019, aims to accelerate the growth of startup companies—and the larger startup ecosystem—across the state. By connecting more than 80 collaborating organizations, the initiative provides innovators with access resources and education that help them bring new technologies to market. Entrepreneurs can get involved to find funding, make professional connections, and set their early-stage company on a trajectory for growth.

UMN Technology Commercialization and the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship in the Carlson School of Management have been involved with the initiative since its launch.

“The broad collective experience found at the University of Minnesota allows us to provide new companies with in-depth expertise on how to develop their technology and set their business up for long-term success,” said Rick Huebsch, executive director of UMN Technology Commercialization. “In collaborating as part of the Launch Minnesota network, we aim to contribute this expertise across the state and ensure that Minnesota remains a competitive ecosystem for innovation well into the future.”

Earlier this year, the University was one of six community-building organizations to receive education grants from Launch Minnesota to train startups in critical business skills. Through this support, Technology Commercialization’s Venture Center has expanded access to its Discovery Launchpad incubator to include a number of non-UMN startup companies that receive Launch Minnesota Innovation Grants.

As participants in Discovery Launchpad, early-stage companies will receive one-on-one coaching and support from seasoned business advisors. The advisor will help them work through a custom curriculum meant to address the company’s key priorities and challenges, while embracing best practices drawn from experienced business executives, the Carlson School of Management, and industry standard methodologies. Participation in the program will help companies reach their next milestone and increase their likelihood of long-term success.

In addition to the Discovery Launchpad, the University will continue to provide Launch Minnesota with resources through MN Venture Builders, an educational platform organized by the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship. MN Venture Builders was launched last spring to connect early-stage technology entrepreneurs from across the state with courses, competitions, seminars, mentors.

Investing in Startups

To date, Launch Minnesota has given out 118 grants totaling over $2.8 million. The most recent awards were announced this week, with 17 startups from across the state receiving more than $450,000 in Innovation Grants designed to support Minnesota’s most promising scalable businesses currently developing innovative technologies. Among the recipients was University startup BlueCube Bio (now known as EviaBio), which is developing a new means for preserving biological cells used for cell therapy in diseases like leukemia and melanoma—and brought home the 2020 MN Cup grand prize.

“Putting capital in the hands of founders can make a big difference in their long-term success,” said Neela Mollgaard, Launch Minnesota’s executive director, in a recent statement. “We know firsthand the difference it is making in the ability to grow these startups and new technologies.”

A number of other UMN startups have been supported by previous rounds of the Innovation Grants, including Anatomic, Tychon Biosciences, and Yonder.


An Inclusive Ecosystem

Less than two years in, Launch Minnesota is already being recognized for its efforts.

The network received a national award in January noting its role encouraging entrepreneurship and inclusive innovation ecosystem as one of four “Super Connector” awardees in the Lab-to-Market Competition, sponsored by the US Small Business Administration. The award lauded efforts to successfully attract and support networks of underrepresented communities in the R&D innovation ecosystem. 

Launch Minnesota submitted a proposal for the award on behalf of UMN Technology Commercialization, the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, the MNSBIR program, and the University Enterprise Laboratories.