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Heitkamp: Providing the seeds for N.D. startups to grow

WASHINGTON -- When people think of startups, often New York and Silicon Valley are the only places that come to mind. But the fact is that we're breeding a strong, innovative, and growing startup community right here in North Dakota -- and it's w...

WASHINGTON - When people think of startups, often New York and Silicon Valley are the only places that come to mind. But the fact is that we’re breeding a strong, innovative, and growing startup community right here in North Dakota - and it’s worth paying attention to it.
In Fargo, Jake Joraanstad’s mother wasn’t too keen on his idea of skipping classes at North Dakota State University to start his business. But after his app development startup, Myriad Mobile, launched an app to help folks get synthesized, up-to-date information about Fargo’s 2011 flood, North Dakotans quickly started talking about it.
Soon after, Jake had received a great deal of media attention - not to mention new business contracts. Now that Jake’s startup is up and running and he’s set to hire 40 employees - NDSU degree in hand - his mom has come around.
But not everyone gets a successful start so quickly. As a student, Jake had fewer financial obligations and more time to commit to his business than others like him in the startup community.
In Bismarck, Kari Warberg Block figured out that she could deter mice from getting into her tractor cab with smell instead of poison. But it took her eight years to develop and get her product to market - raising the funds for her patent by selling vegetables at local farmer’s markets. Now Kari, the proud owner of EarthKind, and Jake have united under the same cause: helping others like them in North Dakota’s burgeoning startup community.
It’s innovative entrepreneurs like Kari and Jake who are supporting a new bill I introduced to encourage creative and enterprising talent like theirs in small cities and in rural states. My bill aims to address the biggest challenge North Dakota startups face, which Kari and Jake have talked about as well. Too often, they find it difficult to qualify for early stage funding, or seed money, to get off the ground. In fact, nearly a third of startups in the Fargo-Moorhead area said this was their biggest challenge.
Building strong and safe North Dakota communities for the future means supporting a robust, diverse economy, including propelling the growing startup community across our state. The goal of my Startup Entrepreneur Empowerment Delivery (SEED) Act is to help foster that growth so it continues and more North Dakotans can tap into it. By offering ten small cities with populations of 200,000 people or less across the country $120,000 in federal funds to distribute among promising startups in their communities, we can support innovation here at home.
Last year, the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration and I met with startup and small business entrepreneurs across North Dakota. During that visit, I held the first-ever U.S. Senate Small Business Committee field hearing in North Dakota, where we heard from too many folks like Jake and Kari who face the daunting challenge of falling through the cracks in a system not built for them.
That is, they’re often asking for too little funding to meet the threshold for a grant or loan. My SEED Act would directly address those concerns, and start a bigger conversation about how we can promote that growth in rural states between Silicon Valley and New York.
The sheer talent needed to generate these startups is in no short supply in North Dakota. Last year, our state ranked third in startup activity nationwide - with the majority identifying seed funding as their primary hurdle.
These are entrepreneurs who aren’t asking for the sun, the moon and the stars - they just need a small boost to get going. When most of these folks are turning to friends and family for that early stage funding, the federal government can certainly do more to support startups that help strengthen our local economies.
By making small investments in local startup innovation now, we can build the infrastructure needed to support new ideas and businesses that will empower our local communities to create jobs and diversify our economy for years to come.
Heitkamp is a Democrat representing North Dakota in the U.S. Senate. Contact her at heitkamp.senate.gov.

Related Topics: HEIDI HEITKAMPTECHNOLOGY
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