NDSU researchers study start-ups in Fargo

Since you’re reading this site, it’s likely no secret to you that Fargo has become a vibrant hub of entrepreneurial energy in recent years. The local start-up scene is remarkable enough that two NDSU professors have made Fargo’s economic ecosystem the subject of an academic study.

Joshua Marineau and Onnolee Nordstrom are both professors of management at NDSU, and they will present on some of the key findings of research they’ve completed on Fargo’s business community at 1 Million Cups Fargo on October 17.

Marineau began the research in the summer of 2016 with the help of a grant from the Kauffman Foundation. Nordstrom joined the project after moving to the area and starting in her position at NDSU.

The methodology Marineau and Nordstrom used to gather information included conducting interviews with members of the business community between summer and fall, as well as sending out a survey. They were motivated by a desire to learn what makes Fargo’s business ecosystem tick.

“We were kind of interested in why that was able to happen,” Nordstrom said.  “How would you go and do this somewhere else?”

Nordstrom said she and Marineau tried to go into their research without too many preconceived ideas about what they would learn. They didn’t have any major hypotheses about what they would find out, but they did have some important questions they wanted to answers. Per Nordstrom, they asked about how people in the business community think about entrepreneurship, what philosophy drives them to it.

What they learned is that “it centers a lot around making Fargo the place you want to live,” Marineau said.

In terms of what makes the community as a whole tick, Marineau said they found social interactions between members to be a vital element.

“We found that it’s a very dense network of people,” Nordstrom said. “Everybody kind of knows everybody.”

In connection, she noted 1 Million Cups Fargo is one of the largest weekly 1 Million  Cups events in the country.

Although the ecosystem is flourishing, Marineau and Nordstrom also found the community is tight-nit.

“There’s a couple really central people in the ecosystem,” Nordstrom said.

Surprisingly, for Nordstrom, they found that the entrepreneurial community in Fargo does not have much to do with the area colleges and universities; in other locations, universities tend to lead to business development.

Regarding future study into the Fargo entrepreneurial ecosystem, Nordstrom expressed interest in looking at gender’s role in the ecosystem; she noted the local entrepreneurial community still tends to be quite male. Marineau also wishes to study other ecosystems similar to or different from Fargo.

“We really want to extend our findings to other geographical areas,” Marineau said.

He added that he would be interested in revisiting this study with further data now, a couple years after the initial data was collected, and perhaps even further down the road.

Marineau noted the overall composition of the Fargo business ecosystem has changed even since he and Nordstrom began studying it.

“I think it’s matured in the sense that it’s more inclusive,” Marineau said. He noted Fargo’s start-up scene was, early on, very tech-focused. While tech companies continue to be a big part of the community, he noted more creative and social entrepreneurship-oriented companies have sprung up over time.

1 Million Cups Fargo takes place each Wednesday at the Stage at Island Park from 9:15-10:15 a.m.