Community Case Studies

Creating a Culture of Connection in Rochester, Minnesota

How Collider is bringing visibility to a growing community of entrepreneurs

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Rochester, Minnesota, had a hidden entrepreneurial culture with few on-ramps to the business community.


Collider opened as a coworking space and then an entrepreneurship hub to bring visibility and connection to the entrepreneur community.


Collider has supported 26 new businesses and created 34 jobs in 3 years, fostering an emerging culture of mutual support in Rochester.

A “Hidden” Entrepreneurial Culture

How do you generate an entrepreneurial culture in a one-industry town?

You might ask Amanda Leightner, who has been fighting to get more people starting businesses in Rochester, Minnesota. 

Aside from being the second largest metro area in the state, Rochester is notable for being home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic.

“You would think having such a stable employer in the area would make people more risk-friendly,” Amanda shared. “But it’s actually the opposite. Our entrepreneurial culture was very hidden.”

Part of the reason, Amanda thinks, is that there weren’t a lot of on-ramps to the business community in Rochester. There was no “place to go” if you had a business idea. If you didn’t already know someone who owned a business, you were on your own. Failure was not something to be embraced but looked down upon and discouraged.

That is until Collider opened its doors in 2016.

Not Just a Coworking Space

Starting as a coworking space, Collider’s goal was to bring public visibility to the local entrepreneurial community. 

“After we had been open for a while, we realized that the most valuable service we provided wasn’t coworking, but connecting people to resources in the community—especially connection to potential mentors.” 

Upon that realization, Collider filed for 501c3 status in 2019 and pivoted to serving idea-stage entrepreneurs in Rochester.

It became clear to the leaders at Collider that entrepreneurs in Rochester needed not only connections but also some business knowledge and confidence in order to be successful.

“We did some research and community outreach, and it was clear that people had this misconception that starting a business was this insurmountable challenge. People had no idea how to actually do it. We had the opportunity to give them the tools and connections they needed to move forward with their ideas.”

After realizing they didn’t have the capacity to build their own entrepreneurial education course, Amanda heard about CO.STARTERS through her cousin, who went through the program in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, at The Corner

“I remember that city being a ghost town when we visited a few years ago,” Amanda recalled. “Now the streets are lined with new businesses.” That’s when Amanda knew Collider needed CO.STARTERS.

An Emerging Culture of Connection

Since joining the CO.STARTERS network in 2022, Collider has run 5 cohorts, supporting the creation of 26 new businesses and 34 jobs in under two years.

“I think we are starting to realize now—in many ways, thanks to CO.STARTERS—that people want to be involved in the community. They want to help each other.”
– Amanda Leightner, Executive Director of Collider

Sometimes to change a culture, you have to create one first. Like in many other CO.STARTERS communities, graduates of Collider’s program have created their own culture of mutual support. They share contractors and even volunteer for each other. Several graduates have come back to facilitate the program for new entrepreneurs.

“We’ve created our own practice of ‘give before you get’ here,” said Amanda. “People often think that because they didn’t receive any help, they don’t owe anything to anyone else. Not our graduates.”

She shared one story of an entrepreneur, Chelsi Low, who went through CO.STARTERS Core to start a glamping business. One of her sites needed tree clearing. In the spirit of support, some of her fellow entrepreneurs in the program volunteered to cut down trees with her.

Still, Chelsi gained more than just community from her CO.STARTERS experience—she also found the structure and support she needed to focus and launch her business quickly.

“I got my glamping offerings for my camping and outdoor recreation business dialed in and launched in 5 months—and ended up bringing on an employee—something I didn’t think I could afford to do until a few years down the road.”

The success of Chelsi and other Collider graduates is creating new narratives around entrepreneurship in Rochester, especially as starting a business becomes a new necessity for some residents.

“COVID really exposed some weaknesses in the Rochester community,” Amanda shared. “It broke down a lot of our social connection, but it also showed people that their jobs weren’t as stable as they thought they were, making entrepreneurship a necessity in some cases. I think we are starting to realize now—in many ways, thanks to CO.STARTERS—that people want to be involved in the community. They want to help each other.”


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