MN Cup Fuels Minnesota's Early Stage Entrepreneurs

For one day we will take a step away from the life sciences and talk about something equally essential to us all: food.

The Twin Cities are a veritable Wonka-Land for foodies.  New breweries, upscale restaurants, and daring new tastes lurk around every corner.  Just last week the Minneapolis restaurant The Copper Hen was featured on the CNBC show Restaurant Startup and received an investment from restauranteur Joe Bastianich for a rooftop expansion.

The MN Cup’s “EAT: Entrepreneurs at the Table” event this past Thursday celebrated and showcased over sixty local food entrepreneurs.  Over five hundred people packed into the Chow Girls Solar Arts Building in Northeast Minneapolis for this free event.  Participants had the opportunity to engage with, sample, and buy product from each of these early stage food and beverage entrepreneurs.  If you didn’t leave having to expand one belt notch, you probably weren’t doing it right. 

What could be sampled from Minnesota’s food innovators?  Please start by smearing some of the  Shamim’s Pantry Ghee, a type of pure butter fat, onto crackers.  Top that off with an enormous, half pound cookie from T-Rex cookies and wash it all down with a pineapple habanero mixer from The Twisted Shrub.  For the more adventurous, try out the Northern Ale Guide craft brewery passport.  Take this little blue book to over thirty Minnesota craft breweries in Mankato, Rochester, the Twin Cities or Duluth to get a buy one get one free pint, plus have the passport stamped.  It really doesn’t get much better.

So what exactly is the MN Cup? 

It’s only the largest annual state business plan competition that grows and supports entrepreneurship in Minnesota.  The state-wide tournament provides small businesses with the tools to grow and offers exposure for early stage companies. 

The MN Cup launched in 2005 and is based out of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship in the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.  The competition spans eight categories including Food/Agriculture/Beverage, Student, Life Science/Health IT, and a newly added Youth Division. 

The criteria for entry is simple.  Companies must have under one million dollars in annual revenue and be based in Minnesota. 

The competition grows every year.  In 2015, $327K in prize money was awarded and over ten thousand entrepreneurs impacted by the tournament.  Over 89% of the state’s counties were represented, with a strong presence from Southern Minnesota.

For the competition, startups are judged on the opportunity of their business idea, business plan, team, and progress in engagement with customers.  The competition is particularly looking for high growth potential businesses that could bring job opportunities to the state. 

The whole MN Cup process is free for startups, including the application which goes live March 21st.  During this six-month long competition, ten semifinalists in each of the eight division are first selected from this large pool of applicants and paired with at least one mentor.  This field is winnowed down to just three startups in each division in early August.  The pool is further preened to just one divisional winner who walks away with $30K in seed money.  All divisional finalists have a chance to compete for the grand prize, the MN Cup and an additional $50K, at the final awards reception scheduled for September 22nd this year.      

Even for startups that don’t make it into the finals, the constructive feedback, increased visibility, and mentorship received is invaluable and worth the effort to enter the competition.

For more information about the MN Cup, check out LSN Podcast 27 and 28, where MN Cup Director Melissa Kjolsing spoke at a Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator and BioAM sponsored event and the competition website.