A new collaboration between the city, schools and businesses is being launched to make Eden Prairie more entrepreneur-friendly.
It’s expected to eventually include space at Eden Prairie High School (EPHS), set aside for business-minded community members and teenagers to connect, learn, dream and create.
EPHS Principal Robb Virgin likes to call this new ecosystem the “Innovation Sandbox … a physical space, but also a way in which the thinkers in our community can partner with each other and partner with the school.”
“It has a lot of potential for us as a community and us as a high school,” he added.
Players in the new venture, in addition to EPHS, are the City of Eden Prairie, the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce, and Eden Prairie’s One Million Cups, which is a local group based on a national program to educate, engage and connect entrepreneurs.
Their collaborative work to date is debuting Wednesday, Aug. 25, in the new Hopspot meeting space at Fat Pants Brewing. More information about that event is on the Chamber of Commerce website.
Ideas about how to spark more entrepreneurship in Eden Prairie have been brewing for more than a decade, according to Mayor Ron Case, who credits former mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens and programs offered through the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo. for helping to get the ball rolling.
The Kauffman Foundation provides learning and best practices in creating community ecosystems for entrepreneurial learning and support.
A 2019 program he participated in through the Kauffman Foundation prompted Case to begin thinking about how to launch some type of entrepreneurial center in Eden Prairie that would create jobs by focusing on new technologies, products and services.
While it’s not unusual for cities to set aside a small amount of co-working office space to help incubate new businesses, the Eden Prairie program is different in its effort to also grow entrepreneurs at EPHS.
Traditionally, says Virgin, there’s been a “big bright line between industry and schools,” but the Eden Prairie Schools are trying to blur that line with their Designing Pathways initiative to make students career-ready.
Classes in entrepreneurship are already being offered at EPHS, and there are plans to offer a capstone project in entrepreneurship next year. Capstone projects are opportunities for high school students to take on extra, interdisciplinary learning projects that can also benefit the community.
Patrick Donohue, who started Eden Prairie’s One Million Cups program to gather and foster entrepreneurs and is managing partner and CEO of Hill Capital Corp., a St. Paul investment fund, is excited by the collaborative nature of the new program because entrepreneurs often work alone but need connections and mentoring to succeed.
“It doesn’t have to be a lonely journey,” he said.
“This stuff is so important,” he added about the local effort. “It makes our community more resilient and vibrant.”