Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

The GFMEDC has been part of fostering the growth of the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for more than a decade. 

John Machacek has been leading the GFMEDC’s entrepreneurial efforts for that time. 

“Between working at the GFMEDC before, in the early 2000’s, and then working in business banking for a while, when I heard in early 2012 that the GFMEDC was adding entrepreneurial development as one of its strategic pillars, I thought ‘That’s cool, but how are they going to really help entrepreneurs?’. That kind of thinking was partially due to fewer resources existing at that time, but also me naively not understanding that an effective entrepreneurial development is not just about programs, but also about the strength & connectivity of the ecosystem,” said John Machacek, GFMEDC’s Chief Innovation Officer, “Now I can definitely see the importance and value of both programs and the connected network. And since I’ve been deep into this every day, I’ve really noticed the changes over that time.”

During a recent GFMEDC Investor breakfast, Machacek and several regional partners shared how the ecosystem has evolved and how partners are providing value to the ecosystem.

This doesn’t happen overnight. It’s driven by the collective work of many people and organizations. A decade of collaboration and asking entrepreneurs how our community can support them has led to an increase in the programs, space, funding and events that support the entrepreneurial journey.

Emerging Prairie has been a critical leader in enhancing the ecosystem and helping foster the magic that our region is becoming known for, and at a level of ecosystem building that is quite frankly incomparable to other communities around the country.

GFMEDC was there at the beginning to provide seed support Emerging Prairie when they launched their non-profit, focused on supporting entrepreneurs.


Many entrepreneurs start in the proverbial garage or basement, or even coffee shops, but eventually, many need more space for their team or equipment or even to be around others. For a number of years, our community already had spaces like the NDSU Research & Technology Park buildings, Lake Agassiz Development Group’s regional small business center and traditional office space whether on their own or subleased within another company.

And, while coworking spaces have existed around the world for many years – GFMEDC helped with the launch of the initial CoCo coworking space in 2014, which was later taken over by Emerging Prairie as the Prairie Den. Regus opened their first of two locations in 2015 and the Railyard Offices opened in 2020. Dakota Business Lending opened their Entrepreneur District space earlier this year to provide both space and support for ten entrepreneurs. The Grand Farm will soon have space as well once the new campus is constructed, and the City of Moorhead is looking into developing a community center for entrepreneurship as part of their downtown redevelopment plans.


As illustrated at the investor breakfast, some of the biggest changes have come in the area of funding opportunities. One graphic showed a sampling of 40+ existing financing, grants and private equity sources, while the next graphic showed that only one-half of them existed in our region a decade ago.

While there are too many to list here, some of the new funding options include:

  • Bank Of North Dakota’s Accelerated Growth Loan that fills a gap for high-growth tech companies struggling with traditional financing due to the collateral issues that come with intellectual property and SaaS products.
  • ND Department of Commerce has added several such as:
    • LIFT no interest and low-interest financing to support technology advancements
    • Angel Match Program to match up to $250,000 in private equity raised
    • $45 million Wonder Fund equity program
    • Increasing loan amounts and equity opportunities with the ND Development Fund
  • MN DEED recently added 1.00% loans for automation and for supplementing privately raised equity funds, as well as creating more direct investment and multi-fund investment programs
  • Via the Legacy Fund, the ND Growth Fund has partnered with several venture capital funds to directly invest into ND startups, including establishing the gener8tor ND accelerator programs
  • ND’s Bioscience Innovation Grant Program is providing millions in support to foster the growth of the bioscience industry


The region has also seen a steep rise in private equity in the last few years, including those not directly related to state investment programs.

Those are just some examples of the tangible things that have supported an ecosystem that has matured into an environment that’s begun attracting national attention.

But as mentioned earlier, there has also been tremendous value in the intangibles of the connectivity and strength of network.  It’s the willingness of local entrepreneurs to share their story and ask for help. It’s local partners and businesses willing to listen, make connections and often to just show up. It’s a collaboration built on trust, lacking in egos and a willingness to roll up sleeves and ask what’s needed. It’s an appreciation for creativity and risk-taking and positive vibes.

It’s not something every community can pull off. Maybe it’s just either there or it isn’t. Either way, it’s here in Fargo Moorhead. And we’re just getting started. 

{Want to learn more about the ecosystem and stay engaged? We suggest checking out our website; subscribing to our curation of Techstars Startup Digest Fargo; reading about entrepreneurs in our monthly Fargo INC! features; AND just showing up at events!}

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