Wednesday, March 6, 2013

“Silicon Prairie”: The Increasing Entrepreneurial Draw of the Midwest

A few months ago, my mother forwarded me a link to an article in our very own Minneapolis Star Tribune entitled “Tech New Frontier: Silicon Prairie.” (Yes, my mom may be overly engaged in what I do for a living, but I do owe her for inspiring this entreVIEW post.) The article described the emerging high-tech startup community in the Midwest, emphasizing the home-grown roots of entrepreneurs in the area and the increasing attention – and money – paid to these businesses over the past few years. 

The moniker “Silicon Prairie” intrigued me, so I decided to dig a little more deeply into the origin of the phrase. It turns out that our nation embraces a few different prairies of silicon nature – an area in Texas north of Dallas, an area in Wyoming, an area surrounding Chicago, and our very own “Midwest,” which loosely encompasses Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, and South Dakota – the states bordering I-29. Each area boasts somewhat of a different start-up focus, with Texas named chiefly for the concentration of information technology companies in the area, Illinois centering on research companies, and Wyoming being mentioned for its Web 2.0 startups. 

But as the Star Tribune article emphasized, the Midwest has historically been known “more for its barns than its bandwidth,” and many of the burgeoning businesses in this space relate to agriculture, biotechnology, and manufacturing. Though the region currently reflects only about 6% of the country’s angel investment transactions, it is one of only two geographic areas that exhibited an increase from 2011 to 2012 based on a report prepared in connection with the Angel Resource Institute, Silicon Valley Bank and CB Insights. Because the history of the area reflects a “like on the farm” work ethic, those paying attention believe the region only has more room to grow. 

There’s even a publication called Silicon Prairie News dedicated to recognizing and supporting the area’s “entrepreneurs, creatives, and investors through an emerging model for grassroots entrepreneurial ecosystem development.” I’m not sure how I missed this one, but will be adding it to my regular reading list, as well as paying heightened attention to how this Silicon Prairie we live in continues to make headlines. 

Post by Karen Wenzel, Guest Blogger

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