“The entrepreneurial community in Rochester that exists right now is like seeds scattered everywhere. Now, it’s time for those seeds to germinate and Rochester’s entrepreneurial community to bloom,” says Jamie Sundsbak, BioAM Founder and major shaper of Rochester’s innovation community.
Jamie has seen entrepreneurism in Rochester evolve over the past five years with the launch of the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator and Cube coworking. But he still felt that there was an unmet business development need between these two points.
He, along with Area 10 Labs owners Hunter and Traci Downs, are developing and will soon launch a brand new business incubator right in Rochester. “Basically, we want to make it easy. If you have a great idea and you want to pursue a passion, we want to try and remove as many barriers as possible to get you started and get you moving as fast as possible and hopefully, ultimately, succeed,” says Jamie.
The idea for the incubator came right from the Rochester community. And there’s no better time than now to launch this thing.
“I’ve always had in my mind an ideal vision of what a business incubator would look like in this city. I’ve traveled around places like Boulder, Colorado and Kansas City. I’ve seen incubators working very, very well. I wanted to take some of those good ideas and bring them back,” explains Jamie. He’s been sitting on the incubator idea for a long time, and finally all the pieces have fallen into place.
The new incubator will be housed in the historic Conley-Maass Building- which is owned by the Downses- where Jamie, Hunter, and Traci will collaborate to support budding Rochester businesses. The incubator will be the first building in the Discovery Square region of downtown Rochester, which “added an incentive to have something like this in that space…for the larger vision of what Discovery Square will be,” explains Jamie.
The services and business development structure provided by the incubator have yet to be finalized, but will likely be flushed out and unveiled over the next month. “We have ideas that we would like to test with potential customers to see if there’s a good fit, because Rochester’s a little bit of an atypical place as well. …We’re just trying to figure out what’s best for Rochester and what fits,” says Jamie.
“With a business incubator, what we’re trying to do is really find some people with some great ideas in the community. They may have already formed a business. They might be in the initial stages of starting a business. But, we really want to go from idea to product and just provide a space for them to be able to scale,” explains Jamie.
Companies are anticipated to stay within the incubator for two and a half to three years, which will fluctuate depending on the type of business. The incubator will provide some sort of mentorship structure, pulling from shared connections at the local, state, and national level. The incubator likely will not provide seed capital to incubating businesses, but will connect and encourage companies to seek out funding sources like MNvest, venture capitalists, and angel investor networks. The large physical space is still in the conceptual stage, but will likely be divided into dedicated desks, semi-private offices, and “hot desks” for day-to-day drop-in use.
It’s time for Rochester’s entrepreneurial community to enter into the blossoming phase and continue to diversify to create a stable economy. The city houses budding opportunities in the life science, tech, and even food entrepreneurial spaces.
“I would love to see a network of these incubators strength across the city. …What would an incubator look like around a community kitchen? Or tech styles? Or a wet lab space? I could see these specialty incubators sort of popping up. I think that will happen in the next ten years for sure,” predicts Jamie.
To better serve this diversifying entrepreneurial base, BioAM will also evolve.
“BioAM was intended to grow life science entrepreneurship in Rochester. …I would bring in great life science founders to give talks. I’d look into the audience and half of the audience were not life science entrepreneurs, but were people who were tech entrepreneurs who were just interested in entrepreneurship in general. So I started thinking of ways that we could grow an organization to encompass not only life science entrepreneurs, but all entrepreneurs in the city,” says Jamie.
As part of this shift, BioAM will be resorbed into a larger organization to better support the changing entrepreneurial scene in Rochester. The group will keep a “bio” name and still hold life science specific events. But the larger organization will also have complementary tech and general entrepreneurship arms to encompass all of Rochester’s innovators. Maybe even a branch for food entrepreneurs is in the future.
Jamie admits that leaving his position at Mayo Clinic and trying to launch a business accelerator is risky. But for him, it wasn’t really a choice to make, but perhaps more like his true path.
“I always felt in spending the last almost five years with BioAM, promoting entrepreneurship, deep down inside when I looked in the mirror that I was kind of a fake. Because I always had a stable job. I can host an event and then go back to work and have a job. Here’s a guy that’s standing in front of between ten to seventy people at every event saying how awesome entrepreneurship was, and how we need it in Rochester, and how we need to do to something. But I’m getting a paycheck and I’m not breaking out on my own to start something new. …I want to lead by example. I don’t want to be the guy saying, ‘Hey, go out and do some really risky stuff. Oh, by the way I’ll be here at Mayo if you need me’. I want to be the person who’s right there in the trenches with people, taking those risks and living through that. And I think that will help grow the ecosystem even more because they’ll see not only me, but other great people in the community begin to emerge and to really do great things that aren’t dependent on larger organizations in town.”
“That’s hopefully going to provide encouragement for a lot of other people to do that and create this virtuous cycle of people who hopefully become successful, or at worst fail and learn from it and be able to feed back into the ecosystem and encourage that next group of people forward.”