Innovation: Mankato’s lifeline?

Last December, two former education leaders in Minnesota wrote an op-ed in the Star-Tribune calling for the state to “re-energize” efforts in innovation because the Bold North is failing to deliver “the talented workforce and innovation that are key to economic vitality and quality of life.” So I was curious. Where did we in Greater Mankato fit in?

Over the past few months, I’ve been having discussions around the area and doing some research on innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E, for short). According to the government’s Innovation Index, our area is ripe for becoming a hub for I&E except in two areas: venture capital and what is loosely termed as “community support.” By this index, we rank 100 out of 380 regions in the United States which sounds pretty good. However, by contrast, Fargo, N.D. ranks sixth; Ames, Iowa is 12th and Sioux Falls, S.D ranks 18th. Madison, WI ranks 33rd and the Twin Cities ranks 35th. As the two education leaders said “pretty good won’t be good enough.”

Developing I&E is an important component of employee attraction and retention. Growing our workforce from within is a critical strategy for all communities competing for workers. In addition, entrepreneurs help communities grow, they create businesses and new businesses create jobs while strengthening competition and increasing productivity. Besides, just having an area of bright, innovative minds makes for a more interesting place to live and enjoy for everyone.

Frankly, there is a lot of I&E activity going on in the area, but it’s the best-kept secret in the Mankato area. That’s not a good thing. That lack of awareness fails to engender the community resources necessary to help entrepreneurs. Without a network of support, we could lose many of our budding innovators to other cities and, in fact, we are. I’m hoping to change some of that with a blog series focusing on I&E and the discussions surrounding how we can become that hub, how we can develop a supportive innovation ecosystem. I will be relying a lot on local stories of little-known successes as well as “failures.” I’ll look at local pockets of innovation and begin to weave a network of contacts and resources and share those connections. I’ll shine some light on information from institutions dedicated to improving innovation such as the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Kauffman Foundation and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation as well as others.

If you’d like to stay up-to-date on this information, follow this blog and I’ll do the rest. If you have any ideas or stories you think need to be told, shoot me an email at [email protected] or comment below.