Startup Spotlight: The Power Of Community

by on Aug 25, 2015

One of my favorite teachers is the university. Not because of what I learned in the classroom, but because it has done for young people what Emerging Prairie hopes to do for our community. It has developed a strong sense of belonging to a group of people.

A key factor for any university is the student union. As a student at the University of Minnesota, I often marveled at our student union as it proved to be the most diverse place on campus. It served as a melting pot of ideas, the town hall for the campus and allowed groups to meet, study and come together.

For years, Emerging Prairie has challenged ourselves to think as if we were more like a university than a company or NGO. We’ve dreamed of creating a community similar to a university where folks of all ages can continue to learn, develop and grow. We dreamed of adding a student union-like environment for collaboration, self-organized learning groups and a town hall for our community.

Two years ago, Emerging Prairie committed to partner with the Greater Fargo- Moorhead EDC to bring a co-working space to Fargo. We found a fantastic space on Broadway and signed a lease. We hoped to hire CoCo out of Minneapolis to support us with concept designs. In the final hours of putting the space together, they chose to own and operate the space. We were thrilled. A national expert in the space was coming to Fargo to build our collaborative community.

However, as many know, CoCo didn’t take off. Despite varying opinions on why that was the case, in late May CoCo closed its doors. With just a few weeks notice, our team realized we needed to act quickly if we wanted to preserve the dream of bringing a student union environment to our city.

We went to the community. We asked you to help us think about names and created a contest, resulting in a community-chosen name: “The Prairie Den.” We partnered with the Misfits to come up with space designs. They helped us team up with 10+ artists to create a unique sense of place that was filled with extensions of Fargo. Corporations in town started putting their hand up, hoping to chip in.

John Deere and Bell State Bank offered us old office furniture. The EDC sent a board room table, chairs and many other pieces for us to use. Todaymade signed up their whole Fargo location to give us membership support. Eide Bailly and US Bank made a donation and showed their commitment by paying their membership fees months in advance. Sixty-three people donated $50 to become a part of the co-founder campaign and received a T-shirt.

With your help, in just under two months, we were able to bring together a functional space for the community to share. Forty- nine folks have signed up to be members, including Minnesota State University Moorhead’s President Anne Blackhurst. The space has already hosted several community meetings, including a 24-hour Game Maker jam and Startup Up Drinks for over a hundred people. Team members from Emerging Prairie that lead this project, Annie Wood, Bri Lee, Liv Stromme and Jackson Ridl, deserve my personal thanks; for their leadership and poise, and their ability to create something special for all to enjoy.

Now, we have our own community student union. We have a space for self- organized learning groups to host their gatherings. Relationships are building. Partnerships are happening. A tribe is forming, filled with friendships across sectors and interest areas.

The journey to bring the Prairie Den to life has taught me wonderful things about this community. You, the people of Fargo-Moorhead, have proved that you believe in this place. That you believe in the creators who work here. That you believe we can do more together, than we ever could alone.