See more of the story

A Minnesota food industry hub is joining a national network of similar groups, promising more support — and investment — for local entrepreneurs.

Grow North MN, an organization housed at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, will soon be known as Naturally Minnesota, becoming the ninth outpost of the Colorado-based Naturally Network.

"What we're doing isn't changing, but how we're doing it is getting bigger and better," said Grow North executive director Allison Hohn. "This puts Minnesota on the map in a much more significant way."

The new affiliation comes ahead of Grow North's annual Food Ag Ideas Week, which returns to in-person panels, programming and tours the first week of October with a focus this year on the global food supply.

"This is one of those turn-the-engine-over moments," Hohn said. "Coming out of COVID, this is the big jumpstart, and a way to say, 'Hey, Minnesota food ecosystem, here's a chance to show up."

The Grow North brand, which drew significant inspiration from Naturally Boulder, was born in 2017 and will live on as an initiative of Naturally Minnesota, Hohn said. The overall organization will remain at the University of Minnesota and continue its mission to foster early-stage food and ag companies.

"Grow North has been here to be the front door for the industry," said Hohn, who will continue to lead Naturally Minnesota. "Entrepreneurs get overwhelmed by what they should do, and when, where and why. I spend a good portion of my time meeting one-on-one, asking: What do you need?"

The Naturally Network began with Naturally Boulder in 2005 and has grown in more recent years to include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, Austin, Texas, and the San Francisco Bay Area. The group focuses on accelerating natural and organic food and ag businesses and complementing other organizations that do the same.

"Minnesota has always been an incubator for sustainability and innovation in CPG [consumer packaged goods] products that today's health-conscious consumers demand," said Naturally Network executive director Katrina Tolentino. "Naturally Network is so proud and excited to extend our reach into this region and increase access to our network, tools and resources."

Hohn said Naturally Minnesota offers an agricultural expertise that other chapters lack.

"We have much deeper agricultural roots, and they're excited for us to lead the way on that," she said.

In return, connections to the coasts and other food industry hubs could attract more investors to Minnesota and offer pipelines to national distribution.

"The network and connectivity is one of the biggest benefits," Hohn said. "This really doubles down on the ecosystem-building aspect. Minnesotans tend to work alone, and they work hard, but they don't leverage the community as much as they should."

Food Ag Ideas (FAI) Week runs Oct. 3-6, with many events at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul and streaming online. Cargill's vice president of sustainability, Heather Tansey, will deliver the keynote on building resilient food-supply chains.

Naturally Minnesota will celebrate its launch at an FAI event the evening of Oct. 3 at Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.