Fargo, Silicon Valley For Small Business Startups, Minus "Aw Jeez" & Silos

The critically acclaimed 1996 dark comedy film Fargo, written and directed by The Coen Brothers is coming to the small screen. That's right, the hilarious yodeling accent made famous by actress Frances McDorman in the classic flick also featuring Steve Buscemi and William H. Macy has cast equal star power for a TV version about to kick-off on the FX network this week. But that's not the only reason Fargo's in the news these days. A little known fact about this North Dakota burgh, it's also a burgeoning tech center welcoming all kinds of new small businesses into its fold.

So How Frickin' Cold Is It?

Well, let's just say, "it's so cold, Miley Cyrus would have to pull her tongue in." As of the 2010 census, it was home to 105,549 people who apparently were all open to braving the northern winds. Experiencing extreme temperatures dipping sometimes below of -45°F in the winter plus its proclivity for floods once the snow melts doesn't seem like a climate that would motivate Silicon Valley types to relocate.

There's Gold (erh, Oil) in Them Thar Hills...

Yet, like the Gold Rush of the 1800s, there's a renewed interest in a town that many only know as a place that quirky and strange things go bump in the night!

One of the reasons points to North Dakata's recent oil boom that's lured thousands of new workers to the city and state. Flush with cash, and focused on a tourism campaign with the ad slogan, "Find the Good Life in North Dakota," there's an onslaught of new homes, roads, schools, hospitals and businesses providing the necessary infrastructure to attract qualified tech companies.

Tadd TobkinTadd TobkinUsing the analogy of a gold rush, the Fargo-based investors, the Arthur Ventures team express a preference for firms that are "picks and shovels" over ones that are "prospectors." One of its partners, Tadd Tobkin says his firm "looks for companies with ROI and leadership and all that kind of stuff, but is especially keen on IT companies."

Startups? You Betchya!

Jim TraynorJim TraynorOther examples are plentiful. Jim Traynor, director of market development at Intelligent InSites, a Fargo-based software company has grown so fast it's moving to larger quarters for its staff of 80 and counting.

The Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp. organized North Dakato's first "Startup Weekend Fargo" which motivated over 60 designers, developers and startup entrepreneurs to collaborate on ideas for new businesses.

So popular was the event, that Ben Milne, The CEO of Dwolla actually skipped the 2014 South by Southwest in Austin to attend and serve as its gratis keynote speaker. Milne so impressed by the town and its techie enthusiasm, posted the following tweet:

Ben HantenBen HantenBen Hanten, self-described 'lifelong entrepreneur,' angel investor and co-founder of Wire Me Awake was intrigued by the event as well and noted a marked difference from Silicon Valley. "I live in an area where people are creating really cool things, but we do get caught in our silos. Fargo is anti-silo. At the finale of Startup Weekend, the organizers brought up 11 people to share their upcoming events. It was nice that they were literally given a stage as individuals, but it was also a show of all the cool things that are happening," wrote Hatten in a Forbes article.

Silicon Prairie

'Emerging Prairie' is a digital-media company founded in 2013 by a group of Fargo entrepreneurs. They describe this territory as a multi-state region comprised of North Dakata, South Dakata, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

In the last decade, the so-called Silicon Prairie has become a strong brand onto itself for emerging small businesses and startups. The moniker was first claimed by the Gateway 2000 computer company in advertisements in the mid-1990s as its location in advertisements and promotional materials.

However, distancing themselves from the over-exposed Silicon Valley, this region's techie gurus insist they are not striving to replicate what went before on the West Coast, or any other well-known tech hub like Austin for that matter.

Whattabout the Wood Chipper?

So as this fresh new batch of savvy transplants flock to this techie mecca, they'll differ markedly from the Coen Brothers' characters as well as the local residents. They'll be replacing the now-familiar idioms: "Ah Jeez," with geek-speak and jargon like "ecosystem," "malware," and acronyms like "SMS," DDoS," and "OpenSSL." They'll meander throughout town usually in packs of five - seeking out a Starbucks no matter how far.

In time, however, I'm sure, similar to the TV Reality Show, Survivor there will be a merging of the two tribes: the techies and the locals. And who knows -- in time -- one of the new startups might just choose to name themselves after the film's famous wood chipper who - if you remember - was caught only one foot away from concealing his crime!

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Apr 13, 2014
by Anonymous

One of Microsoft's largest

One of Microsoft's largest North American development centers is in Fargo too.