“Even as a nonprofit, we are an entrepreneurial startup. With so much conversation around building an entrepreneurial ecosystem…usually, it is only systemized for private business,” explained Heidi Mestad, Director of the Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester.
All great impact is built off the work of others, Mestad explained. She continues to build as she redesigned and reorganized the museum’s staffing, governance, and future direction over the past year and a half. The nonprofit’s team itself is full of risk takers, several of whom left impactful jobs to fulfill a larger vision and passion, such as Beth Sherden, the current Operations and Experience Manager.
In true fashion of a startup, Sherden said they are not afraid to “go ahead and try and then iterate” at the museum, learning and growing from failures and successes.
The nonprofit has remained small and agile, allowing it to innovate and experiment with its model and challenge the very concept of “museum,” helping the nonprofit to remain a relevant and viable business in Rochester.
The creativity and entrepreneurship exhibited at the museum is helping to spur a new trend in the industry, claiming a spot at the intersection of education and innovation, where children and adults can curate their own experience, foster lifelong learning, and play.
Mestad explained that the current Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester, at its location on North Broadway, was always understood to be a proof of concept, a pilot.
“So now, what’s next? What did we learn? What do we need to do a little differently? And what do we need to do to make sure it continues to be a relevant and sustainable business model as we go forward?” she asked.
To meet the needs of the evolving Rochester community, the nonprofit recently wrapped up a ten-month discovery period- where the team met with several focus groups and thought leaders and toured other children’s, science, and health museums- and recently unveiled renderings for a new, multi-generational experiential learning concept, temporarily called the Innovation Experience Center.
This ~30,000 square foot space will focus on three key impact areas- innovation, cultural exchange, and health and well-being- to provide experiences that reflect stories of regional creativity and ingenuity.
Exhibits, or “impact zones,” in the proposed museum would constantly change, but the story line would always explore the region’s rich innovation history and foster a sense of place, purpose, and learning through play, where community members and visitors leave saying, “Wow! I didn’t know that!”
The Innovation Experience Center is designed to present visitors with a problem, encouraging them to challenge themselves and work toward a solution.
“It’s an impactful intersection of research, education, and attraction center all in a fun way. But then other things can build off of it,” Mestad explained.
The entrance itself to the Innovation Experience Center could include something like a maze or a double-stranded DNA ladder that kids and adults would have to navigate through to access the space.