2018 has been a high-flying year for Sentera, maker of precision sensors, drones, software and IoT solutions used in the agriculture industry to increase farm yields and decrease environmental impacts. “We have had our biggest year of growth in dollars and annual growth rate,” Eric Taipale, CEO of Sentera, said. The company, founded in 2014 and based in Richfield, MN, has been adding new employees, reaching new customers, and expanding partnerships with agriculture leaders such as John Deere and Monsanto. In September, Sentera announced it had raised $14 million in Series A funding.
“We’ve reached a tipping point,” Taipale said, where Sentera products are becoming a way of doing business in farming. “When farmers hear about the successes our customers and resellers are talking about, nobody wants to be left behind.”
Taipale gives credit to the Minnesota High Tech Association for adding fuel to Sentera’s success on multiple fronts:
- Connecting Sentera execs with venture capital investors [More info: MnVenture.org]
- Providing opportunities for Sentera to gain visibility in Minnesota’s tech community
- Offering SciTechsperience, an internship program that helped Sentera hire and pay for STEM interns, two of whom are now employees
- Bringing Sentera to the table with state lawmakers as an advocate for small tech businesses.
The cumulative effect has strengthened Sentera’s position within the ag industry and, on a broader basis, as a Minnesota startup success story.
Connecting to Venture Capital
Taipale is quick to point out the most valuable experience Sentera has had with the Minnesota High Tech Association has been connections to venture capital contacts. In the 2016 Tekne Awards, Sentera won the startup category. “We met the investment bankers that helped us do our Series A funding through that win,” Taipale said. “That was a pretty significant point in our lives.”
There are lots of people to connect with via the Tekne Awards, which have for the past two decades been an annual event bringing together hundreds of leaders in technology, business and politics to recognize Minnesota innovators in tech and science. Sentera subsequently won a Tekne in 2017 for its innovative software and is once again a finalist for 2018 Tekne Awards. The Tekne Awards are a clear signal to the public that the company keeps innovating.
The Minnesota Venture Conference, presented by Minnesota High Tech each fall, invited Sentera to make a pitch in 2017. The event led Sentera to connect with yet another venture capital group.
Minnesota Venture Conference and the Tekne Awards are among the largest events that Minnesota High Tech offers to support and encourage innovators, particularly startups that benefit from the visibility.
Hiring SciTechsperience STEM Interns
Sentera was initially introduced to Minnesota High Tech by participating in its SciTechsperience STEM internship program. SciTech connects small businesses to a pre-screened pool of STEM college students. Through funding from the State of Minnesota, SciTech covers half of the STEM interns’ wages up to $2,500. Two of the company’s SciTech interns are now full-time Sentera employees, demonstrating the value of SciTech as a pipeline for small businesses to find and help pay for high-caliber STEM talent, Taipale said.
Advocating to State Lawmakers
Minnesota High Tech recruited Sentera staff and SciTech interns to testify before the 2017 Legislature in support of renewing state funding for SciTech. Sentera’s persuasive presentation helped get SciTech state funds for 2018-2019. The advocacy role is one more way Sentera is demonstrating its success in the tech community.
Building community relationships
Sentera staff continue to seek ways to support other startups. “I’m fairly active in encouraging the startup landscape in the Twin Cities,” Taipale said. “We keep an eye on what’s going on.”
For any startup, Taipale said building and leveraging relationships is a core part of doing business. “It requires a lot of relationships and help from people who have done it before, sources of capital and advice. Minnesota High Tech has a way of weaving together academics, small business, large business, partnerships.” Those relationships have made a difference for Sentera.