The Midwest is different than Silicon Valley.
Where they have deep roots in silicon development, software and other IT fields, we bring different skills to the table.
St. Louis knows agriculture and was home to much of the Human Genome Project; now it’s putting that expertise to work in healthcare innovation and agtech. Detroit knows automotive; now it’s a leader in autonomous vehicle development. Kansas City knows telecommunications (Sprint and Garmin are both there, and its central U.S. location made it a communications hub as far back as the telegraph days); now local entrepreneurs there are working on the next big communications tools. Technology is happening in these areas, it’s just of a different sort than what’s happening in Silicon Valley.
That presents a unique opportunity for the region.
Quartz recently jumped on a term for what it views as this Midwestern approach to technology: “Mid-tech.”
Alongside the traditional high-flying software jobs that are plentiful in Silicon Valley, mid-tech jobs, loosely defined as tech jobs requiring less than a college degree, are growing fast in the Midwest. While not an official designation, mid-tech jobs can be defined as skilled tech work that doesn’t require a college degree: just intense, focused training on the job or in vocational programs like those of blue-collar trades of the industrial past.
As software and hardware become the foundation of US economic growth, more and more technical jobs are becoming blue-collar ones. “The modern factory job is a mid-tech job,” says Patrick McKenna, a serial entrepreneur and investor at High Ridge Venture Partner in San Francisco who is focused on bringing such employment to the Midwest.
The story cited data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on 12 major cities with strong industrial infrastructures. “Mid-tech jobs were defined as “computer and mathematics occupations” in which 30% or more of those employed did not hold Bachelor’s degrees. Even in this very narrow definition (far more low-tech jobs are not captured by government data), the subset includes 914,000 people in computer systems analyst, computer network architects, and support specialist roles.”
According to the research, 25% of all tech employment in the Midwest qualifies as “mid-tech.” In the Bay Area, these jobs count for less than 20% of all workers.
Interesting stats, but stories like this overlook a key fact about the Midwest innovation economy: We’re doing a lot more than just mid-tech out here today.
From healthcare IT, to pharmaceutical development, to agriculture technology, energy innovation and more, Midwest startups are working on solving some of the biggest problems of our day.
We see this every day in our portfolio companies.
Cofactor Genomics is working on new ways to harness the power of RNA to create personalized medicine.
That isn’t mid-tech.
Benson Hill Biosystems is bringing the power of CRISPR gene editing and cloud biology to agriculture producers, boosting yield and creating better, more efficient crops.
That isn’t mid-tech.
Or consider the work that Neuros Medical, out of Cleveland, Ohio, is doing to develop new, non-pharmaceutical solutions for chronic pain.
Their work is cutting edge, not what I’d call mid-tech.
This isn’t just our opinion. These companies, and others like them, are among the top companies in their industries in the nation. In some cases, they are among the best in the world.
CB Insights named Benson Hill Biosystems to its prestigious AI 100, a select group of promising private companies working on groundbreaking artificial intelligence technology, as well as its 2018 Game Changers list, high momentum startups that are working on world-changing innovations. CB Insights also singled out Neuros Medical as a company that is “redefining the future of medicine.” Both Benson Hill and Agrible were named to the Thrive Global 50, which recognizes the world’s leading startups in agtech, and Indalo Therapeutics was named one of the “top 20 life sciences startups to watch in 2018” by BioSpace.
So, for investors from outside the Midwest, the message is, don’t come here only looking to create mid-tech jobs. Come here because we have cutting edge tech happening in a whole host of different industries. Come here because we’re doing some of the best work in the world in agriculture and healthcare. Come here to invest in big, world-changing innovations.
Mid-tech is a start, but there is much more happening in the Midwest that deserves attention.