Visit Minot start-up studio raises questions, concerns

If you look around nationally, you’ll see that business incubators are all the rage.

Think about it this way — an incubator for a plant; it matches quality seeds with the best soil for sprouting and growth. It gets the plant off to a good start.

Not to be confused with a business accelerator, which is much like a greenhouse for business. Once the plant has sprouted, it helps the plant grow to its potential.

What does that really mean for business?

No one is really sure, but it seems to be all the rage nationally. It also seems to be a lot of buzzwords to get funding.

On Monday, Minot City Council endorsed Visit Minot’s revised plan for enhancing tourism – a “start-up studio.”

The studio includes expanded retail space, shelf retail for pop-up shops, along with meeting and co-working spaces in downtown Minot.

In the purest sense, a business incubator helps a company sprout from seed. It helps refine what it is going to be, build out its business plan, make sure there is product-market fit, ensure there are no intellectual property issues and help set-up an ecosystem to survive.

So, in theory, an organization can rent this start-up space to plan a sporting event, meeting or convention.

Isn’t that service already available through the many wonderful venues we currently have, or even by renting a hotel banquet room for planning?

Here is where our problem lies, and to answer council member Tom Ross’s question: yes, it does put Visit Minot in direct competition with other local businesses in all the ways Mr. Ross pointed out. The very businesses that Visit Minot is built to support.

But more importantly, what happens to the 99-year lease the Minot Convention and Visitors Bureau (MCVB) or Visit Minot signed with the Scandinavian Heritage Center roughly 28 years ago?

The whole purpose of that union was for the MCVB to help support the Heritage Center and its expenses. MCVB has a constant flow of lodging tax income from tourism. We hope that lease will stay in place and this start-up studio is just additional space.

If not, this start-up studio idea goes from bad to worse. It not only puts Visit Minot in direct competition with the very businesses it supports. But it also, hamstrings the most unique tourist attraction we have in Minot – the Scandinavian Heritage Center.

The people of Minot should expect more – and get more – from Visit Minot, considering the hundreds of thousands of dollars we entrust to Visit Minot each year to bring tourists, tournaments and conventions to Minot. Perhaps more accountability and transparency should be required of Visit Minot, whether this plan goes forth or not.


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