For decades the Minneapolis-St. Paul region has stood out as a hotbed for medical device innovation. But other U.S. regions have also managed to position themselves as a medtech hub, including California's Silicon Valley, Boston, MA, and even Austin, TX. This raises important questions about the future state of innovation in Minnesota.
At MD&M Minneapolis 2019, Oct. 23-24, a panel of experts will discuss whether or not Silicon Valley will eclipse Minneapolis as the largest U.S. medtech hub. In preparation for the panel discussion, MD+DI asked readers to weigh in on which U.S. metros they considered to be the top hub of medical device innovation.
As the map above shows, most (44%) of the 100 survey respondents said the San Jose, CA region (aka Silicon Valley) is the top U.S. metro for medtech innovation. Minneapolis - St. Paul, MN came in second with 33%, followed by Boston - Cambridge, MA with 18% of the votes, and Austin, TX with 2% of the votes. The remaining 4% of survey respondents said "other" but did not specify a region, aside from one respondent who said Phoenix, AZ because, "I live here, of course."
What Makes This City or Region the Best for Medical Innovation?
Here's where it gets interesting. Those who designated Silicon Valley as the top U.S. medtech hub mentioned the following characteristics as reasons the region stands out: strong technology and software development; digital health and interconnected systems infrastructure; innovative thinking; startup companies backed by venture capital; breadth and depth of ecosystem; mild climate and a driven workforce; diversity of workforce; diversity of startups and established medtech companies; the talent, knowledge, and experience of the medtech people in silicon valley; and a "great community of innovators, investors, and technology companies."
"The synergy created by having some of the brightest minds, a true 'can-do' entrepreneurial mindset, abundant capital, and outstanding educational institutions," one reader said in response to this question.
Those who said Minneapolis is still going strong as a hub of medtech innovation touted these characteristics about the region: Low cost of living; excellent resources (workforce, capital, and the University of Minnesota); excellent work ethic; strong knowledge base; an ecosystem integrated by industrial sectors, universities, healthcare, and entrepreneurs; the quality and number of people involved in medtech; a highly networked community providing the best in service, technology, and know-how; networking of companies and communities; skills, funding, and educational backing.
Several respondents noted the region's strong history of medical devices with Earl Bakken, founder of Medtronic.
"The Medtronic heartbeat started there... and it is an affordable place to raise a family, with strong family values in the community," one respondent said.
Survey respondents who called out the Boston, MA and Cambridge, MA area noted things like prestigious medical research, academic institutions, leading healthcare systems, and a favorable business environment; and the ability to leverage and translate disruptive academic research.
Is Minneapolis Losing Its Edge?
The responses to this question were split dramatically. One reader noted that the tax burden in Minnesota is overwhelming the advantages of the Twin Cities.
"Minnesota companies are slow, old school, and lacking energy," one respondent said.
"Yes, they are living in the past," said another respondent who said Silicon Valley as now the top U.S. medtech hub.
"Sadly the brutal winters and short summers, plus the conservative (not political) mindset is too much to overcome," said another respondent.
One respondent pulled no punches when answering this question. "[Minneapolis] has been losing its edge for some time, but you'd not know that based upon the arrogance often displayed by MN-based companies," this person noted.
Another survey respondent said Minneapolis is "perhaps" losing its edge technological innovation, "but it is still number one. They should not ignore this technological movement."
"Only if the funding dries up and large corps stop partnering," another respondent said.
And yet another survey respondent explained that Minneapolis is more of a hub for improved existing technology, but not next-gen technology such as bioelectricity and regenerative medicine.
"Yes, I think that it is [losing its edge]," said another, who identified themselves as having a perspective from multiple angles including investment banker, co-founder of a venture capital-backed startup, attorney, and investor. "I've lived and worked in both Minneapolis and San Francisco/Silicon Valley. With all due respect to the medtech community in the Twin Cities which, historically, has spawned a very successful industry, I think that the Twin Cities medtech cluster has lost a step (maybe two). When I was in Minneapolis (a five-year stint), I simply did not discern an abundance of the mindset that created Silicon Valley in the last 50 years."