On November 21st over 600 developers and entrepreneurs got together to discuss what’s important to Minnesota tech start-ups. The halls that Best Buy legendary founder, Dick Schulze, built made for a great location for the next wave of Minnesota entrepreneurs to begin spreading their wings.
Several Minnesota start-up thought leaders were on hand including Graeme Thickens of Minnov8.com, Robert Stephens, founder of GeekSquad, Justin Porter of the University of Minnesota Venture Center, and John Roberts attorney at start-up friendly New Counsel. There were many young Minnesota entrepreneurs on hand including Mynul Khan founder of FieldNation, and Adam Sellke of Evolve (recent semifinalist at MN Cup 2009). I was surprised that there were several Minnesota entrepreneurs who had multiple successful companies with exits.
Minnebar cofounder Ben Edwards led a very interactive roundtable discussion for web app builders. Ben’s leadership was clearly on display as a large group of primarily independent developers came forward with their questions on how to market the technology they built. It was very interesting to hear a group of developers discuss marketing issues. As an Internet company founder, I know you need to wear a lot of hats from my first hand experience.
The most heated discussion of the day was “Bootstrapping your Tech Start-up” led by Kevin Spreng of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi. Kevin provided tips for bootstrapping entrepreneurs such as hire contractors rather than employees, go without an office, and focus on execution. Near the end of his session, Kevin stated that marketing agencies were a black hole because marketing agencies spend a lot of money, and he advised start-ups to handle their own marketing. Curt Prins, Executive Director at District 202 and marketing guru, responded with his disagreement and said not all marketers needed a large budget to accomplish results for start-up entrepreneurs. A rather lively debate ensued (see tweets under #minnebar). Nice work Kevin and Curt in driving a stimulating discussion on the topic of bootstrapping.
Justin Grammens led a packed session on how to develop Android applications. Justin explained how, unlike iPhone apps, Android apps require no certification or approval. He also created a simple “Mobile Twin Cities” app during the session. I was amazed at how simple creating a basic Android application can be.
Dan Frankowski and Max Harper from Blue Shift Labs led a discussion on coding with Google’s App Engine that intrigued a number of developers. The crowd was very engaged. The scripting seemed pretty straight forward.
Mike Bollinger provided an introduction to HTML5. The tweets that followed said that HTML5 looked “amazing” and that users should stop using Internet Explorer 6 to increase the adoption rate.
Ryan Weber and I provided a summary of the top trends and winners in the application industry. Ryan forecasted that the integration of social and location-based mobile technology would be one of the most significant drivers of growth and change in the mobile app space.
My favorite discussion was the one facilitated by cofounder of Minnebar, Luke Francl, entitled “Midwestern Startups: What is Possible?”. Luke started by asking for those entrepreneurs that had worked in Silicon Valley to compare their start-up experience there versus their Minnesota start-up experiences. One such entrepreneur answered Luke’s question by saying Silicon Valley start-ups aren’t as afraid to fail as those in Minnesota. Another entrepreneur said the biggest difference was how much deeper the talent pool was in the valley. Finally, someone joked that when he was in Minnesota, whenever someone asked where he worked, he responded with “I work for at a start-up”. When asked the same question while at an iPhone meet-up in Palo Alto, the response was met with laughter. Why? In Silicon Valley, everyone works for a start-up. The discussion next turned to several ideas on how we can make Minnesota a better place to create a tech start-up. Among the ideas identified were creating an incubator fund modeled after Y Combinator, getting the University of Minnesota to raise money to fund local tech start-ups similar to what the University of Wisconsin started a year ago, the creation of a new Techcrunch-like Minnesota focused community site, and taking advantage of Minnesota’s significant number of Fortune 1000 companies to provide a distribution channel for Minnesota-brewed new tech. Michael Gorman of Split Rock Partners, one of the sponsors, closed Luke’s discussion by saying he was looking forward to seeing where we would be in another year. Judging by all of the energy, and the way the Minnesota developer and entrepreneur crowd is starting to support each other, I am confident we will see continued growth in the Minnesota tech start-up community. I am looking forward to Minnebar 2010.