The Backstory of Rochester Rising: What Everyone Should Know

I have been told several times that I need to share my story and the story of Rochester Rising, which are one and the same. Here is my journey, told to the best of my ability. I ask others to tell their personal stories every day. So I guess this is only fair.

I never thought that I would be an entrepreneur. That thought still terrifies me a little bit every day.

Five years ago, I was toiling away behind a lab bench deep within the Mayo Clinic. The only vague image I might have connected to the term “entrepreneur” would have been something like a Mark Zuckerberg. Two years ago, I might have entertained the idea that I could be an entrepreneur one day, but probably would not have fully believed in that possibility.

I think it’s funny how as an adult you somehow find your way back to things you were passionate about as a child. My very first professional ambition, that I can remember, was to be a trainer of Shamu. I’m not sure how that one didn’t pan out, but it was a no-go. Most adults I knew growing up probably would have thought I would become either a librarian or a writer. I loved to read. I loved to read more than I loved to do just about anything else. Except maybe write. I remember writing, editing, and producing a magazine with some friends that we sold to our grandparents during elementary school.  

Eventually, I decided to try a “more practical” career and pursued a degree in biological sciences at a university in Pittsburgh close to where I grew up. A few years later, I found myself at the Mayo Clinic for my first graduate school rotation, working towards a PhD in molecular biology. But not the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. I don’t think I confidently even knew where Minnesota was on a map at that point. Somewhere in the middle?

An advisor told me that I should at least experience the Rochester campus for a short period of time. So I took a short plane ride from Jacksonville to Pittsburgh and caravanned west with my parents. I drove my car. My parents drove a slightly frightening, unmarked, white van full of second hand furniture.

I was only going to stay in Minnesota for seven months. It’s been nine years. By some twist of fate that I still don’t quite understand, I never made it back to Florida. I stayed in Rochester for the next six years to finish my graduate degree.

The majority of the time I was working on my studies, I knew that science just wasn’t for me. I was not driven to get up every day, go into the lab, and answer questions through experiments. Why didn’t I just quit? I guess I really didn’t know how. I felt that I had gone so far, I just had to finish. A great role model once told me that no matter what happened, no one could ever take away your education.

I even went on to do a postdoctoral fellowship in Minneapolis because I didn’t know what to do with my life. While everyone else was moving forward around me, I felt that I was standing still or even getting left behind. Like so many people that I’ve told the stories of here, I felt that my life needed to change and the only person able to make that change was myself.

I remember one snowy, cold Saturday not too long ago, when I drove to Rochester to talk with Jamie Sundsbak, a Rochester entrepreneur who had started BioAM, a networking and supportive group for life science entrepreneurs in Rochester. Jamie and I had worked together for several years at the Mayo Clinic, in the same lab, while I did my graduate work. I drove to Rochester to tell him about this great experience I had just finished up with Life Science Alley, now Medical Alley Association, an organization that supports and advocates for health technology companies in Minnesota. I had loved working with Life Science Alley and I wanted to understand more about life science businesses in Minnesota.

One month later, Jamie called to ask me if I would help him build out a news site for BioAM with a small team of people. The website would, in a sense, bring BioAM to life in the digital space and give a voice to life science entrepreneurship that was taking place in Rochester as well as Minneapolis, where I was living at the time. Later, we spun this website out into a separate entity from BioAM and called it Life Science Nexus.

I loved working on Life Science Nexus. It felt like I was finally able to regain access to that creative side of me and use my words and abilities to tell the stories of others. Others who were doing amazing, risky things. For close to a year I took the bus into Minneapolis for work from my home in the Twin Cities suburbs. During that hour long bus ride I’d read, write, type, and interview people on the phone. I’d fire up the laptop again in the evenings when I got home.

Late nights, long weekends, and juggling multiple jobs is not a unique story for an entrepreneur. For me, it came time to make a decision of what to do with my life. Continuing to do research was not an option; I had no passion for it. So it was either time to take a huge leap of faith and move into Life Science Nexus full time or I needed to take my writing and project management skills behind some other business shield.

I’m pretty sure you all know what happened or no one would be reading this right now.

I left my job in science and moved back to Rochester this past spring for a role that offered no pay and no security. But it offered freedom and a chance to do something that I felt could actually make a difference.

It was a slow and scary process to get reintroduced to this new side of Rochester, one that existed beyond the science bench. During those first few months, I realized that Rochester had tremendously changed in the three years that I had been gone. There was actually an entrepreneurial community. People were taking risks. They were starting things. And things were happening not just in bioscience, but in all different kinds of industries. Rochester had food entrepreneurs. We had beverage entrepreneurs. We had high tech entrepreneurs. We had social entrepreneurs. We had a growing small business community. These people were doing amazing, risky things, but no one was really talking about it. I wanted to change that.

A few months ago, Life Science Nexus was rebranded as Rochester Rising to amplify the stories of Rochester entrepreneurs and showcase the unique flavor of our innovation and small business community.

I truly believe in the power of words to cause change. Rochester Rising is a place not only to tell the stories of innovation that are happening right now in our community. I hope that it also is a place that inspires change. I hope that it motivates others to just start something, no matter how small. I want Rochester Rising to be a place that encourages support for our entrepreneurs, these people who are really putting themselves out there.

Rochester Rising is a one stop operation. It’s just me. There’s no production team. There’s no editorial staff. It’s just me. I do all of the writing, editing, interviewing, podcasting, audio editing, photography, sales, marketing, and business development. Besides having an encouraging environment of like-minded entrepreneurs to work alongside in Collider, I have no current financial backing from any promotional or developmental organizations in town.

It’s just me trying to make this thing survive long enough to make a difference and hopefully long enough to become an engrained pillar in our community. We have great people fighting to make a difference in this community. It’s time we are all heard. 

Rochester Rising is here for the community. If you would like to support this website and help it to continue to exist, there are two options. You can become a monthly supporter through Patreon or make a lump sum contribution through the Rochester Rising website.