BEMIDJI -- The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development touted the success of one of its newer programs on Wednesday.

Titled Launch Minnesota, the program is a statewide collaborative effort created to assist start-up companies get off the ground and spur innovation. Launch Minnesota began in September 2019 and on Wednesday, a presentation recapping the first year was given digitally by DEED staff and other members of the program's leadership, such as Dave Hengel of Greater Bemidji Economic Development.

According to an annual report document on the program, Launch Minnesota awarded 63 unique start-up companies $2.03 million over the last year. Of those businesses, 21% were in Greater Minnesota while 79% were located in the metro area.

Along with direct support to start-ups, Launch Minnesota over the past year also built a network to connect several organizations across the state that advance innovation in business. In March, Greater Bemidji's LaunchPad program was selected to be part of the initiative.

The LaunchPad is a co-working space for start-up businesses and a resource for new entrepreneurs, located at the Mayflower Building in downtown Bemidji. The LaunchPad and other organizations across the state in the network were also awarded grants, ranging from $50,000 to $75,000, to assist in the project.

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Highlights for Greater Bemidji included in the annual report included that they:

  • Held more than 50 online educational and training opportunities in the region.
  • Provided more than 1,000 hours of advice and counsel to 150 potential and emerging entrepreneurs.
  • Linked 15 entrepreneurs with mentors and peer consultants.

"As a regional hub in northwest Minnesota, I can observe the impact Launch Minnesota is having up north," Hengel said. "Entrepreneurship is really part of the DNA of northwest Minnesota. Some of our greatest companies -- Polaris, Arctic Cat, DigiKey, Anderson Fabrics and Marvin Windows -- were all companies started by local entrepreneurs. Yet, they did it without a regional strategy.

"In a real sense, we were starting from scratch in northern Minnesota. With the support of Launch Minnesota, 14 regional funders have come together with a clear focus on supporting our next great start-ups."

In his comments, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said Launch Minnesota is especially important as the state continues to go through the pandemic.

"It is the startups and those who want to do something new that are going to be a key-component of the renewal here in our state," Grove said. "That's not just wishful thinking. It's always the case that in times of recession, people start new things. We really want Minnesota to be at the forefront of that. It's a challenging time, but I think it's a hopeful time."

Gov. Tim Walz also spoke Wednesday during the virtual event and shared similar views.

"Historically, we know that entrepreneurs have forged ahead during times of economic downturns," Walz said. "Taking risks and solving problems that may not have happened in other times. Minnesota has its share of global industry leaders, and many of them are home grown.

"We want Minnesota to continue to be the birthplace of tomorrow's leaders, and in order to do that, we need to nurture the start-ups of today," Walz said. "This investment in our innovation ecosystem helps our state's economy both now and into the future. It creates an upward spiral of new industries and innovations."