How this Midwestern city is leading America in retail tech

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Last year, the top three executives at workforce management startup Branch Messenger decamped from Pasadena, California–based Idealab, the United States’ oldest surviving technology incubator, midway through their stint there. Their destination: Minneapolis.

Of 150-plus Idealab startups birthed over two-plus decades, 45 have achieved successful exits. In Pasadena, Branch’s founders had seasoned mentors who built careers guiding founders from early stage to initial public offering or acquisition. And the West Coast’s top venture funds were either across town or a short flight up the coast, in Silicon Valley.

Why trade that cushy, sunny perch for a frosty flyover city?

A legacy retailer, of all things, prompted the move. Branch was part of the inaugural cohort at Techstars Retail, a tech accelerator led by Minnesota-bred venture capitalist Ryan Broshar in partnership with Target, America’s second-largest discount retailer. But Techstars is only one in a bouquet of startup accelerators, competitions and platforms that are drawing young retail innovation firms to the Twin Cities.

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