Partner Spotlight – Evolve Grand Forks

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Hannah Olson, Leah Breuer, and Olivia Valdivia from CFI sat down and interviewed Maggie Brockling, the Executive Director of Evolve Grand Forks.

Who are you and what do you do at Evolve/701 Coworking?

“I am Maggie Brockling and I am the Executive Director of Evolve Grand Forks. Evolve Grand Forks is well known for our primary program of The 701 Coworking Space. We also have many other programs, such as Main Street, UpNext, and Support Small-Love Local. Overall, we work very hard to cultivate and build a cohesive ecosystem for entrepreneurs and institutions in the community.”

How does your personal vision of Evolve fall into your business’s vision?

“I am a super social extroverted person. So for me, going out there, talking to people, and building connections that are meaningful is something that fits very much in my bailiwick of just how do we get people to start conversations.”

How have you transitioned to living in Grand Forks and how has it been going?

“I did my master’s degree through University of North Dakota as an online student so I never stepped foot into North Dakota until July 2020, a couple of months after I graduated. The goal was to visit Grand Forks the day I graduated and walk across the stage, but we didn’t have graduation due to the pandemic. I decided to visit Grand Forks, never being in the Midwest before. When I came here, the people were super nice and then I made the decision to move out here.”

“My experience living in Grand Forks has been good, the people are super friendly. I think there’s a misconception that people in the Midwest are close minded and don’t want to try new things, but I have had the opposite experience.”

How has the partnership between CFI and Evolve been developed and how do you work together?

“So when I came on, from what I understood, we kind of let a lot of our partnerships grip away instead of nurturing them properly. There’s value in those partnerships, so I wanted to regain and strengthen those. At first, I wasn’t sure if CFI was a competitor, but I quickly realized that we are friends and we work together. Then, I met Dr. Amy Whitney and realized we have a very similar path. We both come from Massachusetts and moved out to ND. I feel like UND CFI has been such a huge supporter for helping our people in terms of getting access to Jump Start, WKI, and InnovateND. Many of our people have gone through it to help their businesses and we refer them to it. It has been a great partnership and I have worked really hard to make sure that there is collaboration.”

What does Evolve do for CFI?

“We were primarily focused on cranking out small businesses for the sake of numbers, but there’s a lot of start-up death that happens. This community is pretty small so in order to create better morale in that, it is important to steward scale ups, which fits perfectly with us and CFI. The 701 Coworking space is home to many businesses, I think right now we have about 25 businesses that operate out of 4400 square ft. with 75 active members. We work to prepare businesses and make sure they are equipped to go to CFI, the City, etc. Businesses stay here and use our benefits.”

What have been some value points of the partnership between CFI and Evolve? That has affected you personally, your clients, your organization as a whole.

“I know for a fact, I can’t do it by myself. There’s definitely strength in collaboration and partnerships. If we attempted to offer what we could by ourselves, it wouldn’t move the needle. By having this interaction with another agency, it gives us a variety of viewpoints, expansion of opportunities, access to things that we can’t provide, access to better networks, and expertise in certain areas.”

If you had to describe the Grand Forks entrepreneurial ecosystem in a few words, what words would you use?

“Passionate connectors because you can tell from working with Nicole from SBDC, she loves her job so much and everyone who has worked with her thinks that she’s amazing. Then working with Tyler from CFI, he knows his stuff and he’s able to help people. He has a great perspective and ideas, even the City has been great. They have been very supportive in terms of helping us in ways that we need to push things forward. We all like what we do and we believe it.”

During the shift of your vision, how can CFI be there to help and support you?

“Our vision is to be the start up community of choice in the upper Midwest. It is still kind of a rough draft because I feel like “start-up” is maybe not the right term and maybe we should switch it to “scale up” in the future. As for how CFI can help us, keep offering amazing programming because that is something that CFI really excels at.”

Do you want to share the importance of partnerships between organizations like ours?

“For instance, a very small non-profit working with an institution like a university or even like a private segment of a University, goes miles and that’s where the term public-private partnership comes from. Things can’t really be done in isolated agendas. Even when you write grants, they look for key terms such as collaboration. They would rather fund a community of institutions working together, rather than just one person trying to push it forward. When you have the buy-in from CFI or UND, it validates the efforts that we’re trying to accomplish.”