Casey Carl and Mike McNamara on Building the Twin Cities’ Tech Scene

April 7, 2016 - Article reads in
Dinner at Target HQ with four speakers and a big white screen saying

When people think of the Twin Cities, the term “tech hotbed” doesn’t necessarily jump to mind.

But that’s changing—quickly.

Just look at Forbes, which named Minnesota first on its list of the country’s fastest-growing states for tech jobs last year, or the Star Tribune, which listed Target among the top 10 companies in the state hiring tech workers.

Earlier this week, Target hosted about 60 members of the Twin Cities tech community – from startups to community and education leaders to tech investors – to talk shop and discuss what it takes to propel more tech growth here. 

We sat down with the event’s co-hosts, Casey Carl, chief strategy and innovation officer, and Mike McNamara, chief information officer, to learn more.

What do you believe is the recipe for creating a long-term, vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in a place like the Twin Cities?

CC:  What excites me most about the tech opportunity in the Twin Cities is that we already have all the key ingredients (large corporations in diverse industries, strong academia, a vibrant creative community, affordable cost of living, etc). We just need to put them to use in a coordinated fashion.  One of the entrepreneurs who co-founded the global startup ecosystem TechstarsBrad Feld, says that there are four key elements: entrepreneurs, long-term commitment, an inclusive “give before you get” culture, and constant activities that engage the community. We think he’s on to something.

And what is Target’s role in building the Twin Cities tech community?

MM: We want to engage more with the local tech community through events, like the dinner we just hosted, and also by taking part in meetups and educational talks. We want to work with universities and schools to help them develop more tech talent – and more diverse talent. I also think that Target can really help spread the word about the Twin Cities’ growing tech scene.

CC: We believe there’s a shared responsibility between corporations, startups, VCs, educators and community groups —and we’re all in at Target.  We’ve been part of the Twin Cities community for more than 50 years, so we know we have a big role to play in attracting new talent and providing them with resources and mentorship opportunities.

What is Target doing to attract more talent to the area?

MM: We’ve set an aggressive plan to hire 500 engineers here in Minneapolis and another 500 in India, so we need to be relentless in our search for talent. First and foremost that means building a culture where engineers want to work. And, beyond that, we also want talent to know that Minneapolis is a great place to live and work, and that there’s a really vibrant tech scene here.

CC: This summer, my team will be bringing 10 startups to Minneapolis to work in our office for a three-month accelerator with Techstars. What we love about this locally is that, according to Techstars, an average of seven out of 10 companies that participate in a Techstars accelerator program plant roots in the host city. We hope this accelerator is one way we can do our part to bring more startups to the Twin Cities and encourage them to stick around.

What did you take away from the keynote talk from Sam Yagan, a Chicago-based entrepreneur who’s also vice chairman of The Match Group, which owns Tinder and

MM: Like the Twin Cities, Chicago isn’t first and foremost a tech town. And it definitely wasn’t back in 2009 when Sam launched Excelerate Labs, which is now Techstars Chicago. Sam’s story showed how important it is to break down silos between the tech and business communities, how success breeds more success and how we all have a role to play.

CC: I completely agree. As we recruit mentors for our accelerator program, we’ve been thinking about what it takes to be a great mentor and Sam’s got a lot of experience here. I took away three things he said: honesty (the easy answer is to say to a startup “that looks great” – the hard answer is to be honest), being willing to engage meaningfully with startups, and having enough track record to know the patterns of success and failure and give good feedback.

Talk about the panel of Twin Cities tech leaders: Techstar’s Ryan Broshar spoke with Carson Kipfer, a tech founder with Sport Ngin; Sarah Olson, a developer at the Nerdery who’s also head of the local Women Who Code; and Don Ball, co-founder of the tech/startup incubator COCO. What message resonated with you?

CC: What I liked most about the panel was the candor, excitement and sense of momentum. The panelists talked about how we’re held back when we try to compare Minneapolis to San Francisco or Chicago or New York. The tech community here in the Twin Cities is vital and it’s growing, and I came away from the event excited that we could make connections and keep this important conversation going. 

Photos: Stephen Allen

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