JumpStart to help Minn. startups with community advisors program

Twin Cities entrepreneurs may soon have a new — or at least improved — resource for mentoring and seed funding, thanks to a federal grant to Cleveland economic development group JumpStart.

JumpStart, a state-supported nonprofit that has put cash behind 50 Northeast Ohio companies, isn’t necessarily looking to start another version of itself in Minnesota. Rather, it’s looking to work with entrepreneurs, investors and academics to set up an organization (or build on existing organizations) that would be charged with growing and assisting the local startup community.

“Our objective is to help them identify high-potential opportunities to generate startups or high-growth businesses that can help them transform their entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Mike Mozenter. Mozenter, formerly a consultant who did work related to Ohio’s Third Frontier program, joined JumpStart in July to head up the new program, called Jumpstart Community Advisors.

Plans call for the Community Advisors program to be rolled out to six regions, with the Twin Cities being first.


JumpStart plans this week to hold an initial meeting with stakeholders in Minnesota to begin discussing what the new organization might look like. Because things are just getting started, Mozenter declined to identify any of the stakeholders expected to be present.

Early plans call for discussions and research on the state and needs of Minnesota’s startup community, with the creation (or improvement) of an entrepreneur-assisting organization to come later.

Mozenter stressed that the idea is to start with a “clean-slate view” of industry in Minnesota, so it’s too early to say what sort of focus the new organization might have. However, any discussion of industry in the Twin Cities must start with medical devices, perhaps the region’s greatest strength due to stalwarts like Medtronic Inc. and St. Jude Medical Inc., though existing groups LifeScience Alley and BioBusiness Alliance already assist medical companies in the state.

Still, with venture funding to Minnesota startups having fallen 40 percent amidst last year’s recession, any help funneling cash to promising young companies likely will be welcome.

Funding for the Community Advisors initiative comes from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, plus the Knight Foundation and Surdna Foundation.The program has a budget of about $2.5 million over two years, Mozenter said.

In addition to the Twin Cities, regions around five other Midwestern cities were chosen: Duluth, Minnesota; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Gary, Indiana; Detroit, Michigan and Akron, Ohio. (The cities were tabbed because they’ve suffered from the weakening of the U.S. auto industry over recent decades.)

A key behind the effort is to tailor each newly created economic development organization to each city’s needs, rather than simply modeling them after JumpStart, Mozenter said. “This can’t be a franchise,” he said. “What works in one region won’t necessarily work in another.”

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