2018 was a significant year of growth and change for the Rochester entrepreneurial community. Here are some of the highlights.
Events and Competitions
This year saw record interest in existing competitions, development of brand-new pitch events, and continued elevation of ongoing initiatives in the community. 2018 saw continued growth of 1 Million Cups Rochester, a monthly educational event for entrepreneurs, providing a platform for seven different Rochester startups to tell their story and leverage the help of the community. This year the community hosted its second Techstars Startup Weekend, a 54-hour event to go from idea to minimal viable product. The sixth Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week also took place this November, with over six hundred people attending twenty-two different events.
Walleye Tank, a Minnesota based life science business pitch competition, hit record numbers this year with a standing room-only event at Mayo Clinic’s Mann Hall with twenty-two different companies pitching their life saving technologies.
This year also saw the development of a brand-new pitch competition in Rochester, the Assistive Tech Challenge. This event was organized by Destination Medical Center’s Discovery Square team to prototype and seek solutions for persons with disabilities. Twenty-eight different teams applied to compete in this inaugural event.
2018 was also a strong year of regional investment, forecasting opportunities for growth. $725M was raised by eight-six companies in Minnesota’s Medical Alley, including $319M in digital health, $259M in medical device, and $144M in biotech sectors. The Southeast Minnesota Capital Fund closed in June with $2M raised from fifty-six different investors. To date, the fund has invested over $500,000 in seven different healthcare companies including Rochester based Sonex Health, Vyriad, Geneticure, Marblehead Medical, and Ambient Clinical Analytics.
Vyriad, a Rochester biotech company developing cancer therapeutics, also secured $9M of convertible debt note funding this year, facilitating the buildout of a 25,000 square foot Good Manufacturing Process facility for the company on the IBM campus in northwest Rochester. This financing included participation from Mayo Clinic, Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc., and the Southeast Minnesota Capital Fund. Vyriad also secured a $370,000 commitment from the state of Minnesota and the City of Rochester for equipment funding.
This past year saw much opportunity for space in downtown Rochester for entrepreneurs and established businesses. This included the opening of two new co-working spaces, the Offices at China Hall and Collider 424. Construction on Destination Medical Center’s One Discovery Square Building also saw significant progress over the past year, with space commitments from Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota Rochester, and Epic.
Teams from Rochester showed a strong performance in the 2018 Minnesota Cup, the largest statewide business pitch competition. Five Olmsted County teams advanced to the semifinal round including Mill Creek Life Sciences, Thaddeus Medical Systems, B.A.S.I.C. BALSA, Busy Baby LLC, and LipiQuester, LLC. Two of these teams, Mill Creek and Thaddeus Medical Systems, advanced to the semi-final round in the Life Sciences/Health IT Division.
Team B.A.S.I.C. BALSA, composed of five Rochester Public Schools girls, entered Minnesota Cup through Technovation, a global competition to teach girls coding to solve real-world problems. The team was the top-ranking high school group at the state’s Technovation competition, called Appaplooza, and also won $10,000 at Minnesota Cup.
This year, Rochester artificial intelligence startup Spark DJ was admitted to the Techstars Music Accelerator program in Los Angeles. The Hatchery, a wet lab space for life science entrepreneurs, also opened early this year within Mayo Clinic. In 2018 the Ignite Minnesota regional partnership was also launched to convene, elevate, and promote the work of innovative businesses and entrepreneurs in Minnesota to keep the region globally competitive.
Rochester also had an entrepreneurial presence at several national events in 2018 including the NFL’s 1st & Future startup competition in Minneapolis early in the year. A contingent from Rochester also attended the Kauffman ESHIP Summit in Kansas City this summer to create regional and national partnerships to build and strengthen our entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Several distinguished guests also visited the Rochester entrepreneurial community this year. This included serial entrepreneur, author, and speaker Gary Vaynerchuk who headlined the Stationary Astronauts inaugural Meeting of the Minds event in July. The community was also visited by Kira Blackwell, Program Executive for NASA iTech, an initiative that searches for solutions to NASA’s most pressing issues. In December, Rochester was also visited by Jun Axup, Scientific Director and Partner at the San Francisco life science accelerator IndieBio.
The community saw several businesses shut their doors in the downtown area including The Doggery, Soul Purpose Boutique, and Firefly Barre Fitness. This year also ended with the closing of EDGE Fitness in the southwest portion of the city.
Rising downtown rental costs threaten to push small and emerging businesses and entrepreneurs out of downtown Rochester. However, this creates an opportunity for clustering of businesses in other portions of Rochester, such as the IBM campus.