Best Practices

Grow North: Connecting Minnesota Food Entrepreneurs and Innovators

Published Apr 10, 2017 by Pola Firestone
Pola Firestone Relationship Manager and Affiliate Liaison of SourceLink

Pola Firestone
Relationship Manager and Affiliate Liaison of SourceLink. Pola supports SourceLink’s entrepreneurial communities, helping them find ways to increase their visibility and value.



Grow North MN: Connecting Minnesota food entrepreneurs to grow a thriving ecosystem
What if you could create a network of startup resources—a veritable food and ag hub—for your food and ag tech innovators?

Meet Grow North, SourceLink’s newest affiliate partner in our entrepreneurial network. Housed in the University of Minnesota’s Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, Grow North works with Minnesota's food and agriculture entrepreneurs to grow and scale their businesses by providing easy access to statewide resources, education and corporate and peer mentorship.

Connecting Minnesota food entrepreneurs to grow a thriving ecosystem

Over the last 150 years, Minnesota has had a reputation as a strong agricultural community as Minneapolis is known as Mill City for its flour milling using the Mississippi River as transport between cities. Grow North Director Lauren Mehler Pradhan is on a mission to cultivate Minnesota’s thriving food hub.

Launched through the generous support and collaboration with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Grow North utilizes The Resource Navigator® database to connect entrepreneurs to the vital resources they need, so they can spend less time searching for help and more time growing a strong business.

“Since we launched in January, we now have more than 150 providers in the [The Resource Navigator],” Lauren reports, “and we usually get about a submission a day to join. We have also seen traffic increase each month.”

This ever-growing directory includes farm-training programs, local farms, food associations and other ecosystem builders such as incubators, co-working spaces and economic development organizations. Organizations like the Minnesota Department of Economic Development and the Minneapolis Saint Paul Economic Development have already welcomed and recognized Grow North as a valuable resource for its food and agricultural entrepreneurs by featuring and listing Grow North as resources.

Early success and growth

MN Cup, the largest statewide early stage venture competition in the country, started a food and agriculture division to further support entrepreneurs and their ideas. This year, Grow North is part of the MN Cup scene kicking off with a launch party with more than 800 RSVPs and an event planned every month highlighting its powerful network of Resource Partners.

Already Grow North has big plans for its first year.

“We have just kicked off a ton of new programming including a peer mentor roundtable for leaders in our food community, education events and we are excited to be the lead for food for Twin Cities Startup Week in October,” says Lauren.

As a catalyst, Grow North attended Expowest in March, the world's largest natural food show in Anaheim, California, with more than 3,100 vendors and 85,000 attendees. Collaborating with the Minnesota Naturally Pavilion led by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Grow North organized a happy hour for the 50 plus Minnesota companies who had booths at the show ending up with more than 200 guests attending the first time event. Naturally, Lauren is “super happy with the result” (as are we!).

Grow North leverages the SourceLink network

Entrepreneurship is local—and no two communities are the same. That’s why a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. To grow entrepreneurship, you have to understand who your entrepreneurs are, what they need and how to surround them with the resources that will help them grow.

Because Grow North is part of the SourceLink network, Lauren leverages our consulting and tools so she can focus on growing the food and agriculture community. Since launching Grow North, web traffic is increasing with Resource Partner submissions coming in on a daily basis. Lauren relays, “Rob Williams at Sourcelink has been an invaluable resource so that we are SEO (Search Engine Optimization) optimized and leveraging all available assets.”

Pola Firestone Relationship Manager and Affiliate Liaison of SourceLink 
Pola Firestone
is the relationship manager and affiliate liaison for SourceLink. Through her outreach work, she has a window into the challenges of building entrepreneurial ecosystems, and uses that knowledge to help inform new products and solutions to the SourceLink network