Joshua Marineau’s background in business can be traced back to his sophomore year of high school, when he began working as a barista at Kaladi Brothers Coffee Company in Anchorage, Alaska.
Over fourteen years, Marineau went from pouring cappuccinos to training staff, roasting beans, developing blends, and managing the growing company’s warehouse and retail stores. By the time he left, Kaladi Brothers was producing more than one million pounds of coffee a year.
“We ended up being a major force for coffee culture…I was there from the time that we had just a couple stores and a couple employees to hundreds of employees and multiple retail stores,” Marineau said. “I saw the trajectory of the entrepreneurial growth.”
Marineau’s experiences in the coffee business guided him through his education, which culminated in 2012 with a Ph.D. in Business Administration from the University of Kentucky. At UK, his research focused on networks– the interrelations of people and the institutions that connect them. Now, as Assistant Professor of Management at NDSU, Marineau is turning his research to the networks that connect Fargo’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Engaging the entrepreneurial ecosystem
When selecting a topic of research, Marineau knew that he wanted to focus on something local, something that could have a positive effect on the people around him– and the local ecosystem seemed like fair game.
“We’re in such close proximity to so much activity,” he said. “I thought, ‘why aren’t we, as a research community or as academics, looking at this phenomenon that I keep seeing these headlines about?'”
The idea came to Marineau back in January, but his research really kicked off earlier this month when he recieved a grant from the Kauffman Foundation totalling more than $61,000.
“That’s been huge, and made this research possible,” he said.
This summer has been a whirlwind ever since, Marineau said. Phase one of his research has involved conducting interviews with community members– the insiders, the facilitators, and those who know Fargo best.
“Essentially, we want to know what makes [Fargo] unique,” Marineau said. “I’m interested in how people connect, the institutions that allow those kinds of personal connections, and how those connections and the complex web of relationships can provide additional value to all of the players in the ecosystem… from banks who are providing capital to someone who just wants to start a shop downtown.”
Marineau will use the results of these interviews to formulate a survey, which will provide his team with hard data that they can analyze quantitatively. He hopes to have preliminary results by the end of this year, and final results by August 2017– but he expects these results to have an impact that extends long past next summer.
“When you’re collecting this much data, it’s something that can be used for years to come, gleaning insights out of it,” he said.
He predicts that those insights, and the broader knowledge that comes with them, will impact NDSU, its students, and Fargo as a whole.
“As a land-grant institution, one role that we play is to learn about and share knowledge with the community,” Marineau said. “And so when people are curious about what makes the Fargo entrepreneurial ecosystem unique, we can try to answer those questions…What we teach can change based on what we learn, and the insights that we glean can help students with potential future employment or jobs.”
The big picture: collaboration is key
Marineau’s project is part of a bigger picture, one which paints Fargo as an up-and-coming entrepreneurial leader. His research comes on the heels of NDSU’s announcement of a $4.5 million endowment for a cross-campus entrepreneurship program. When Marineau heard the announcement last month, one word came to mind: “Serendipity.”
And although his research is still in its early stages, he said that one characteristic has revealed itself as a driving factor behind Fargo’s entrepreneurial success: collaboration.
“That seems to be a major theme, he said. “It’s a cultural component, almost like a glue that makes it possible because it seems to me, at this point, you could have all of the infrastructure and the pieces together but if you don’t have that interpersonal culture of collaboration, I don’t think you’d get very far.”
This collaboration has created an ecosystem where established companies work alongside ambitious startups, and where an anonymous donor will give $4.5 million to ensure that all students receive the tools they need to pursue their big ideas. And, in Marineau’s experience, this collaboration is uniquely Fargo.