This is part of our series on startup scenes working with UP Global community leaders around the world. See the whole series here.
As organizer Greg Tehven blogged on TED, one of the major myths about Fargo is that it’s cold all the time. Granted, it does get 52 inches of snow in the winter and the average low is below 10 degrees Fahrenheit for three months. But the other seasons – and, I’m starting to learn, the warmth of the community – make up for it.
I’ve asked lots of entrepreneurs about their startup scenes, and nowhere have I heard such resounding praise of the kindness of the people – “some of the kindest people in the world,” writes Tehven.
Blaine Booher, COO of Clifton Labs, says, “The local community is still very connected to their agrarian roots, mixed with some good old-fashioned Scandinavian work ethic. The people are warm, honest, and open. It’s a great community to live in, and the people are generally happy and content.”
Maneesh Apte, angel fund coordinator intern at Emerging Prairie, calls it “North Dakota nice” culture. He says locals deliberately buy from local entrepreneurs, and everyone is happy to make connections for you. “People in Fargo generally take the time to talk to others and are nice and humble. This spreads over to the startup scene because startups are treated very nicely by the community,” he says.
Brittany Sickler, economic development specialist at the US Small Business Administration, says, “The local culture is genuinely open, honest, and appreciates those who work hard and add value. This leads the greater community to welcome those who decide to start something, supporting them in the process and celebrating their achievements.”
Those celebrations happen in the press, across social media, and in person. For example, the community celebrated with a social when the startup Beach Interactive got a grant and – even more telling – congratulated a Myriad Mobile developer who got recruited to Google in California, rather than resenting him for moving away.
“The startup scene is a perfect fit with the local culture,” Sickler adds. “Dreaming big and taking risks is something this region has always done. From the railroad to agriculture, and now with new technology and manufacturing, Fargo has embraced change while maintaining its best characteristic – its people.”
If the people win you over, you won’t be disappointed by the resources you find in Fargo for entrepreneurs.
Events. In addition to TEDx, Fargo hosted Women’s Startup Weekend North Dakota in January and is planning another Startup Weekend Fargo in March. Every week, you can stop by a 1 Million Cups event where two entrepreneurs present their ideas over coffee, sometimes attracting over 200 people. Startup Drinks happens monthly, along with hackathons and other events focused on ecommerce, mobile, health, design, art, 3D printing, and more.
Organizations. Fargo is buzzing about the Fargo Startup House, a recently opened place for entrepreneurs to live and work together, and CoCo Fargo, a 6,000-square-foot coworking space opening downtown in August. Fargo Startup House was founded by Miguel Danielson, who cofounded the local startup media company Emerging Prairie in 2013 with Tehven, Jake Joraanstad of Myriad Mobile, and Andy Christensen of the local VC firm Arthur Ventures. Depending on their interests, startups looking for space and support can turn to the MELD Workshop makerspace or the LADG Business Incubator, which houses 23 businesses.
Success stories. You may not have heard of them, but local legends are part of Fargo startup lore. Great Plains Software was acquired by Microsoft for $1.1 billion in 2001, NAVTEQ was acquired by Nokia for over $8 billion in 2007, and Evolution1 was acquired by WEX for over half a billion this year. Other prominent names these days include Appareo Systems, an aviation and defense company founded by Barry Batcheller, whose earlier company was acquired by John Deere; and Intelligent InSites, which has raised $5.2 million. Mentioned above, Myriad Mobile has grown to 60 employees and added an office in Minneapolis without the help of outside investors. These success stories mean more money and talent flowing into the ecosystem, and inspiration for would-be entrepreneurs.
Besides weather, Fargo’s entrepreneurs also face the usual challenges of retaining talent, finding affordable office space, and securing funding. But the power of community shouldn’t be underestimated. If it’s all about who you know, it’s even better if the people you know are some of the “kindest in the world.”
Thanks to Kirk Anton of Heat Transfer Warehouse, Jim Gartin of GFM Economic Development Corp, Andy Christensen of Arthur Ventures, Jake Joraanstad and Ryan Raguse of Myriad Mobile, Susan Mathison of Catalyst Medical Center, Don Ball of CoCo, and John Machacek of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation for contributing insights to this article.