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Ever Dream of Starting A Food Business? Help is Here.

How Grow North MN helps Minnesota food and agriculture businesses flourish


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Courtesy GrowNorthMN.com

You've got the perfect frozen pizza. The ideal healthy protein bar. Or maybe your artisanal shrub business has stalled out. Minnesota has a lot of food energy going on: we are the home of General Mills, SuperValu, Cameron's Coffee, and Angie's Boomchickapop. Talenti Gelato started here, succeeded, and found a buyer. We have had some successes, but many of our food companies haven't popped as big Minnesota successes: there's an opportunity for a handful of companies to grow.

Enter Grow North MN. The goal is to support food and ag entrepreneurs and help them grow their businesses faster. Grow North is privately funded, but it lives in the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota, it emerged from the Minnesota Cup entrepreneurship competition.

"There are all these incredible things happening in Minnesota, but it's mostly word of mouth. It's a word-of-mouth community, and not as connected as it should be," said Grow North MN Director and General Manager (and my friend) Lauren Mehler Pradhan. To change that, they've created a Resource Navigator, which just went live. There are more than 100 organizations in it. So instead of just saying go to the state Department of Ag website, Grow North is asking the Department to put every program they support in the tool. Same with Department of Employment and Economic Development. Try going to the DEED website and figure out what programs would be good for a food business or farming business. Good luck. So if you want to know about an organic conference in Minnesota: It happened last weekend in St. Cloud. Scholarships for food entrepreneurs to go to trade shows? Yep, called the New Markets Program. "I have found there are so many amazing programs out there, we just need more people to know about them," said Mehler Pradhan.

"We want to take away all the friction so entrepreneurs can focus on running and growing their businesses," she said. It's about finding resources, connecting the community, and bridging the big and small. "We can all help each other. Big companies are inspired by entrepreneurs, they like the energy," she said, "and small companies need expertise and help."

So why should anyone care about this if you're not a food company? The idea is that if Minnesota gets a rep as a hotbed for food companies, it will help attract more money to invest here, and attract more companies to headquarter here. "Minnesota can take its rightful place as a hub for food and ag innovation," she explained. "There hasn't been a way to pull this narrative together to say we have the big and the small, and this passionate community. If you're thinking about growing your food and ag business in Minnesota, you should stay here. If you're thinking of starting a food and ag business, you should come here."

So if you're thinking of starting a food company, or if you've already started one, you should talk to Lauren. "We want to make it easier to grow your business," she said. You can also go to a panel discussion they are doing with Midwest Pantry, about getting your product on the shelf and growing sales on February 1. It costs $10, and you can buy tickets here.

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Minnesota Monthly's Taste Blog answers your restaurant and dining questions, dishes on latest discoveries, reflects on breaking news, and generally brings the plate to the page with a skilled crew of experts: Learn more about the Taste bloggers.

Have a food-related question? Email rfischer@mnmo.com

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