Reporters Notebook: Numbers suggest Minnesota has a ways to go in reclaiming its entrepreneurial ‘mojo’

I’m attending the launch event this afternoon for a group called MOJO Minnesota, an “innovation advocacy force” that wants to “reignite Minnesota’s culture of innovation.” I met with co-founder Ernest Grumbles a few weeks ago, and he explained they’re not going to be about putting out more studies and white papers. They’re going to be about action, he said. This will include state policy advocacy, “fostering dialogue,” and putting on events that connect like-minded entrepreneurs, investors and others.

A study showed up in my inbox this morning that suggests the MOJO team will have their work cut out for themselves. The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity (PDF) is an annual survey of new business starts. This year’s report shows U.S. entrepreneurial activity in 2009 was at its highest level since 1996. More new companies were formed in this country last year than during the 1999 or 2000 tech boom years. Minnesota, however, is singled-out for having one of the lowest rates of entrepreneurial activity.

In 2009, Minnesota recorded 220 new businesses per 100,000 adult residents, just beating out Alabama (210 per 100,000), Pennsylvania (200 per 100,000) and Nebraska (200 per 100,000). Mississippi was last with 170 new starts per 100,000 adult residents. I’m admittedly still learning this beat, but the numbers surprised me. I’d have guessed we’d be in the middle of the pack somewhere — not the bottom five.

Maybe it’s just that I’m better tuned in to the conversation, but it seems like there’s an awful lot of talk lately about how to make Minnesota more entrepreneurial. Can we do it? There’s excitement about the angel investor tax credit passed by the Legislature this session. I’ve also heard concerns that it’s not enough, that we need to do something bigger to overcome our cultural resistance to risk-taking.

Guessing I’ll hear some ideas later today.