Ask A Researcher

March 2019

Learning from Fargo: An Exploration of the Fargo-Moorhead Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Joshua Marineau is an Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business Management and Marketing department at North Dakota State University (NDSU). His research focuses on positive and negative social networks in the workplace. Specifically, how interpersonal conflict influences individual outcomes, as well as how individuals perceive their own and others’ conflict within the organization. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics. Onnolee Nordstrom also is an Assistant Professor in the College of Business at NDSU. Her research has examined a variety of questions pertaining to entrepreneurship, family business, philanthropy, and community development. She works with NDSU’s Research and Tech Park and the College of Business’ Entrepreneurial Initiatives to provide opportunities for NDSU students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and skills to become innovative future leaders. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Canada. In this article they highlight a number of key findings from their research on the Fargo-Moorhead entrepreneurial community.


Today, rural areas are confronted with many challenges. For instance, many have watched their dominant industries such as agriculture, mining, and lumber decline and “brains drain”. Energizing entrepreneurship has become a primary strategy for countering these trends and an attractive economic development tool. This is because entrepreneurship creates wealth, not just wages. And the wealth created by entrepreneurs is reinvested in the community. This is more beneficial for revitalization than just job creation, which brings wages to rural communities but does not always keep this corporate wealth within the boundaries of the community. Entrepreneurs in rural areas are more likely to become community leaders and philanthropists. Thus, entrepreneurship generates a broader set of benefits to local communities, engages civic leaders, emboldens students, and creates a culture of venture and wealth creation.

Fargo-Moorhead is one community that has embraced this challenge and begun working to catalyze entrepreneurship. Fargo-Moorhead has expanded its economy into food processing, manufacturing, technology, retail trade, higher education, and healthcare. According to the Marion Kauffman Foundation, a U.S.-based non-profit organization which tracks entrepreneurial activity in the United States, the Fargo-Moorhead area ranks third in growth entrepreneurship, and seventh in startup activity for small states over the most recent five-year span ( Additionally, a study published by Forbes (Badenhausen, 2014), ranked Fargo as the best small city in the nation to start a business. While many other small American cities have struggled, the Fargo-Moorhead community has grown its population, revitalized its downtowns, and become an important focal point for many professions, including government, education, medicine, retailing, and manufacturing.

These reasons helped us to realize why studying Fargo-Moorhead’s entrepreneurial scene could be interesting and illuminating. Ultimately, we felt that studying the Fargo-Moorhead community could provide us with insight into the cultural and social conditions that build support for entrepreneurial activity, particularly in more rural areas. Our multi-step approach was informed by a broad interest in understanding the culture within this successful entrepreneurial ecosystem. We conducted over 50 interviews with people active within the Fargo-Moorhead startup community, attended many local events, and developed a survey instrument that allowed us to capture individual understanding of entrepreneurship and to depict their social networks. This resulted in a dataset that contained 100s of pages of transcripts and a database depicting the relational ties among 550 individuals and the connections among 100s of local organizations. In this dataset 95% of the individuals were from Fargo. Thirty-four percent of the men and 29% of the women in our sample were entrepreneurs or founders. Nearly three-quarters of people were with for-profit organizations.

We were interested in determining whether individuals within the Fargo-Moorhead ecosystem thought of entrepreneurship in a similar way and if so what this shared way of thinking about entrepreneurship looked like. This, we felt, was important because the way in which individuals think about entrepreneurship influences how it is practiced, and what ventures are deemed legitimate and ultimately supported. We used a method called cultural consensus methodology to capture each individual’s beliefs about how strongly a set of relevant entrepreneurial concepts were related to one another, and to what degree. For example, they were asked to rate on a 1-7 scale (not related to strongly related), how each term related to each other term for all possible combinations. Some of the terms were behaviors (e.g., identifying opportunities, networking, risk-taking, starting a business); individual attributes (e.g., perseverance, grit); individual outcomes (e.g., exiting, personal growth); and broader outcomes (e.g., economic impact, social impact). From these data we could examine not only whether people in the local startup community shared common ideas and beliefs about entrepreneurship, but we could also identify the content and form of those ideas and beliefs. Statistical analysis revealed that there was indeed cultural consensus among the respondents and that individuals saw certain terms as more or less important to entrepreneurship. Below is a graphical representation of the cultural consensus structure of the Fargo-Moorhead ecosystem (Figure 1) based on respondent data (n = 51). The blue dots are the terms used in the survey, and the lines between them represent those that were strongly related to each other in the cultural consensus model. This model represents the overall connections individuals made among entrepreneurship concepts —the structure tells us the relative importance of some concepts over others.

Figure 1. (Marineau & Nordstrom, 2018, unpublished manuscript)

In Figure 1, the larger dots indicate terms that were more central than others indicating how influential, or important those concepts were relative to others. The least influential terms within our consensus model (< 2 ties) were education/knowledge/skills, Fargo-Moorhead Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, positive economic impact, and positive social impact (which had zero ties in the model). Both individual and collective outcomes were less critical in conceptualizations of entrepreneurship than behaviors and individual attributes. Outcomes such as personal growth, exiting, and failing all received two or fewer ties, indicating the lower importance of these concepts in the entrepreneurial cultural model. Thus, entrepreneurship was not generally conceptualized in terms of outcomes or individual attributes but was consistent with a view that holds that entrepreneurship was conceived of primarily by individual behaviors centered on building a business.

Additionally, we collected social network data by asking individuals about their collaborations and friendships. This data allowed us to analyze the interpersonal connections among individuals in the Fargo-Moorhead startup community. Our data revealed a number of interesting preliminary insights. First, entrepreneurs were typically the most central and the best-connected individuals in the community. Men were no more likely to collaborate than women, but men had significantly more close friendships. In addition, women were less likely to connect to a diverse set of other people (such as people in different roles or organizational types) in their close friendships and collaborations than men. In addition, women had less overall gender diversity in their friendship ties than men. Figure 2 below is a graphical representation (network) of the close friendship ties within the Fargo-Moorhead entrepreneurial ecosystem. Green dots represent women, and pink dots represent men. Looking closely, you can see there are more men than women, however our analysis showed that women were more likely to have close friends that were women than men. These early findings indicate that there are important structural factors related to gender within ecosystems, and these kinds of investigations can provide some ideas about barriers to inclusive startup communities.

Figure 2. Fargo-Moorhead Entrepreneurial Ecosystem close friend tie network (green = women; pink = men) © 2019 Joshua Marineau

The data we collected also allowed us to measure the structure of organization to organization ties, and determine which organizations were more or less connected within the Fargo-Moorhead ecosystem. Academic university leadership (this includes the North Dakota State University and the NDSU tech park) were well connected, overall. The Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation and Emerging Prairie were very well connected and were connecting other organizations to each other. In the figure below (Figure 3), the larger dots indicate the greater number of ties that organization has within the network (we limited the figure to the top 20 most central organizations for clarity).

Figure 3. The top 20 most connected organizations in the Fargo-Moorhead entrepreneurial ecosystem © 2019 Joshua Marineau

Finally, our examination found that the Fargo-Moorhead ecosystem was well connected but also somewhat centralized. This means, that overall, the majority of connections were concentrated in a central cluster of individuals. The benefits of this is that if you are part of the central core, you have access to nearly everyone else in the main part of network. The downside is that the central actors become redundant, and getting new information is difficult because everyone is connected to each other. One takeaway from this is that the overall structure of the Fargo-Moorhead ecosystem would benefit from being less centralized on a few key actors. There are major benefits to developing ties and connections to other parts of the of the Fargo-Moorhead ecosystem and beyond, such as new information, new ideas, greater intellection and cultural diversity, and increased collaborative opportunities.

We can draw a number of preliminary conclusions from our exploration of the Fargo-Moorhead area. First, the cultural consensus we identified within the Fargo-Moorhead community visualizes an “entrepreneur-friendly” culture. One of the Kauffman Center's findings is that entrepreneurship cannot succeed without a supportive culture. However, research has provided little insight into what a conducive culture looks like. The experience of Fargo-Moorhead implies that good things happen when a culture frames entrepreneurship as being about building a business and entrepreneurs as individuals who exploit opportunities with grit and perseverance. Further research in other settings will be needed to determine to what extent and under what conditions this holds true.

In addition to illuminating culture, our data highlight a few interesting considerations about gender dynamics in an ecosystem. The women in our sample had significantly less diversity in their collaborations than men. Currently, policymakers have focused on increasing the number of women in an entrepreneurial ecosystem. While this is important, our data suggest that perhaps what might also be needed is more encouragement of diverse collaborations and founding teams. It is rare to see a founding team made up of a man and a women, unless they are married, but if diversity in founding teams increase success as ample research suggests, perhaps we should consider how to encourage mixed-gender teams? There is much to support this idea. For instance, a Credit Suisse analysis of almost 2,400 international companies found that companies with at least one woman on their board were the strongest performers. Another study exploring the impact of gender diversity on business performance (Hoogendoorn et al, 2011) found that teams with an equal gender mix perform better than male-dominated and female-dominated teams in terms of sales, profits, and earnings per share.

There is much from this study that other communities looking to encourage entrepreneurial activity should consider. First, culture matters, and consideration should be given to what beliefs and ideas are being shared within the community. The pursuit of cultural and intellectual diversity can benefit the ecosystem more generally—expanding the central core of the network to bridge among a diverse set of different groups, institutional actors, and geographic areas will pay benefits. When you narrow the backgrounds, experiences and outlooks of the people on a team, you limit the number of solution spaces that can be explored. At best, you will come up with fewer ideas, at worst, you normalize group biases and groupthink.

Joshua Marineau and Onnolee Nordstrom both work in North Dakota State University - College of Business. They can be reached at:

Joshua Marineau, Assistant Professor
Department of Management and Marketing, North Dakota State University
Tel: (701) 231- 8233
Fax: (701) 231-7508

Onnolee Nordstrom, Assistant Professor
Department of Management and Marketing, North Dakota State University
Tel: (701) 541-5956
Fax: (701) 231-7508

Ask a researcher archive

Iyobosa Sonia Omoregie and Kendra Erickson-Dockter. Exploring Suicide Rates Among Youth
May 2024

Dean Bangsund and Nancy Hodur. Sugarbeet Industry in the Northern Plains: Economic Contribution in Minnesota and North Dakota.
April 2024

North Dakota Compass. North Dakota Compass Releases the 2024 Compass Points
March 2024

Nicholas Bauroth. City Governance: Commission or Council for Fargo, North Dakota?
February 2024

Ina Cernusca. 2024 Brings a NEW Visualization Tool and Data Updates to the North Dakota State Legislative District Profiles.
January 2024

Samuel Faraday Saidu and Chelsey Hukriede. Strapped for Safety: Exploring Insights into Car Seat Knowledge Among North Dakota Mothers.
December 2023

Debarati Kole and Kendra Erickson-Dockter. A Comprehensive Look at the Multifaceted Risk Factors of Postpartum Depression
October 2023

Valquiria F. Quirino and Avram Slone. COVID-19 pandemic in North Dakota: Significance, progression, and government response.
September 2023

Karen Olson. The Lasting Impact of Maternal Childhood Trauma
August 2023

Avram Slone. The Social Variability of COVID-19 Mortality in North Dakota between March 11th, 2020 and February 13th, 2022
July 2023

Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund. Agriculture a Key Driver in the North Dakota economy
June 2023

Karen Olson. Health and Well-Being in North Dakota. Understanding how the five social determinants of health are impacting the ability of North Dakotans to thrive
May 2023

Kendra Erickson-Dockter. North Dakota Compass: 10 years of Measuring Progress and Inspiring Action.
April 2023

Hannah Hanson & Grace Njau. Every Dad Counts: North Dakota Fatherhood Experiences Survey
March 2023

Nancy Hodur. Housing Market Conditions and Declining Homeownership Rates
February 2023

North Dakota Compass. 2022 Recap: Data highlighted throughout the year
January 2023

Kendra Erickson-Dockter. A Look into a Chronic Condition and Pregnancy: Preexisting Diabetes PRAMS Points 2022
December 2022

Nancy Hodur and Karen Olson. Lower-income households and baby boomers, main drivers for North Dakota housing needs in the near term
November 2022

Avram Slone. The Impact of COVID-19 on Group Quarters in North Dakota
October 2022

Chelsey Hukriede. Safe Sleep PRAMS Points 
September 2022

Kendra Erickson-Dockter. Gestational Diabetes PRAMS Points – A NEW Dashboard Format!
August 2022

Aastha Bhandari, Debarati Kole, Dr. Nancy Hodur. Mission Of Mercy: Giving hope through a smile.
July 2022

Ina Cernusca.Households with children have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the first year of the pandemic.
May 2022

Andy Wiese and Karen Olson. One Health System’s Approach to Improving Community Health. Understanding what the 2021 Community Health Needs Assessment Conducted by Sanford Health means for population health
April 2022

Mariel Lopez-Valentin and Grace Njau. North Dakota Title X, Family Planning Needs Assessment
January 2022

Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund. North Dakota Lignite Energy Industry Workforce
December 2021

Ina Cernusca. Vaccine Acceptance and Hesitancy in North Dakota
October 2021

Nancy Hodur and Karen Olson. Rural Communities Will Benefit from a New Cooperative in Walsh County
September 2021

Matt Schmidt and Grace Njau. COVID-19 Trends Among North Dakota Children, March 2020 – March 2021
August 2021

Kendra Erickson-Dockter and Ina Cernusca. COVID Hardship on North Dakota Households: New study on the impacts on North Dakota households that lost employment income during the pandemic
July 2021

Chelsey Hukriede and Kendra Erickson-Dockter. NEW! PRAMS Points – A Brief Infographic using North Dakota PRAMS Survey Data
May 2021

North Dakota Compass: A look inside the 2021 Compass Points
April 2021

Ina Cernusca: Households with children are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
March 2021

Ina Cernusca: Differences in COVID-19 Risk Factors at District Level
February 2021

Kendra Erickson-Dockter, Chelsey Hukriede, and Grace Njau: An Introduction to the North Dakota Study of Associated Risks of Stillbirth (SOARS)
October 2020

Karen Ehrens: North Dakota Families are Facing Food and Other Hardships in the Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic, and Helpers Respond
September 2020

Ina Cernusca: Taking the pulse of North Dakota households during the COVID-19 pandemic.
July 2020

Nancy Hodur:Challenges of Grocery Stores in Rural North Dakota
May 2020

North Dakota Compass:2020 Compass Points: Measuring progress. Inspiring action.
March 2020

Amy Tichy:Student Veterans in the College Classroom.
February 2020

North Dakota Compass:North Dakota Compass launches the 2020 State Legislative District Profiles
January 2020

Grace Njau, Nancy Hodur:&Chelsey Hukriede: Risk Behaviors among Women with a Recent Live Birth in North Dakota: Findings from the 2017 North Dakota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
November 2019

Ina Cernusca:& Karen Olson: Behind the scenes – The story of the North Dakota State Legislative District Profiles
October 2019

Ina Cernusca: Key demographic trends in North Dakota.
August 2019

Karen Olson: The 30th edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Book finds that 175,772 children will shape the future of a more diverse North Dakota.
July 2019

Shweta Arpit Srivastava & Dr. Ann Burnett: “Giving rope and pulling it back”: Parental dilemmas to prevent adolescent substance use
June 2019

Ina Cernusca: 2019 Compass Points: Setting direction for improving the quality of life in North Dakota
May 2019

Joshua Marineau and Onnolee Nordstrom: Learning from Fargo -- An Exploration of the Fargo-Moorhead Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
March 2019

Nancy Hodur: Improving Oral Health for Older Adults in North Dakota
November 2018

Rachelle Vettern: Engaging Volunteers across Generations
October 2018

Karen Olson: The 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book reveals strengths and challenges for children in North Dakota – and emphasizes that an inaccurate census in 2020 threatens to worsen existing challenges for North Dakota youth
July 2018

Lori Capouch: Is food access a concern in rural North Dakota?
May 2018

Deb Nelson: Williston Basin 2016: Employment, Population, and Housing Forecasts – An Overview
January 2018

Karen Olson: North Dakota among Top 10 States in Country for Child Well-Being
July 2017

Nancy Hodur: SEAL!North Dakota: A School Dental Sealant Program
June 2017

Grace Njau: A Brief Introduction to the North Dakota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
April 2017

Ina Cernusca: North Dakota’s Women study: A brief overview
March 2017

Dean Bangsund: Effects of Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion on Spring Planting for Producers
February 2017

Deb Nelson: Vision West: Leading, Educating, and Collaborating to Mobilize the 19 Western North Dakota Counties Towards Resilience and Prosperity
December 2016

Nancy Hodur: North Dakota Statewide Housing Needs Assessment: A Brief Overview of the Population and Housing Forecast component
November 2016

Social Isolation: Experiential Narratives of African Refugee Women in the Fargo-Moorhead Community
September 2016

Sean Brotherson: Father Involvement and the Future of Children and Families
July 2016

Carol Cwiak: Bakken Oil: What Have We Learned and What Will We Do Differently Next Time
June 2016

Jessica Creuzer: The Changing Face of Western North Dakota: What are the Effects of Increased Travel from Energy Development
April 2016

ND Compass: City Profiles
February 2016

ND Department of Health: Making Change Happen
January 2016

Jennifer Weber: A Bold New Direction for the North Dakota University System - The NDUS Edge Dashboards
December 2015

Wendy Troop-Gordon: What Has Science Taught Us About Bullying?
November 2015

ND Compass: A Look at the Youngest North Dakotans
October 2015

Kendra Erickson-Dockter: Growing Older in North Dakota
September 2015

Michael Ziesch: Data You Can Trust: The Labor Market Information Center
August 2015

Malini Srivastava and Troy Raisanen: efargo: City Scale Sustainability
July 2015

Kevin Iverson: The State Repository of Census Information- The North Dakota Census
June 2015

Wonwoo Byun: Reducing Sedentary Behavior is a Key for Obesity Prevention in Children
May 2015

Kathryn Gordon: The Science of Suicide Prevention
April 2015

ND Compass: Tell a Story with Data! The Importance of Crade-to-Career Success
March 2015

Abby Gold: Community Food Systems: Food Charters and More
February 2015

Heather Fuller-Iglesias: The Importance of Recognizing the Role of Social Support in Human Development Across the Lifespan
January 2015

Michael Carbone: Using Data to End Homelessness
December 2014

Randal Coon: Tribal Colleges Contribute to the State's Economy
November 2014

Deb White: Women's Representation in Elected Office
October 2014

Randal Coon: Pull Factors Measure Retail Trade Performance
September 2014

Karen Olson: North Dakota ranks Well Nationally with Regard to Overall Child Well-Being; However, Substantial Opportunities for Improvement Exist
August 2014

Julie Garden-Robinson: Guard Against Grilling Gaffes: Healthy Grilling and Food Safety Tips
July 2014

Michael Noone: Extreme Weather Patterns- North Dakota Has It All
June 2014

Kathleen Tweeten: Why All Community Development Decisions Should Use the Community Capitals Framework
May 2014

Clayton Hilmert: Stress effects on pregnancy: The impact of the 2009 Red River flood on birth weight
April 2014

Karen Ehrens: Food Deserts and how they impact North Dakota
March 2014

Gretchen Dobervich and Kendra Erickson-Dockter: New Geographic Profiles: How they can work for you
February 2014

Compass Staff: "New Compass Team Brings Changes in 2014"
January 2014

Donna Grandbois: "Fargo-Moorhead American Indian Community-Sponsored Health Needs Assessment"
November 2013

Karen Olson: "North Dakota KIDS COUNT - why it counts for you
October 2013

Nancy Hodur: "Western North Dakota School Administrators Face Challenges"
August 2013

Megan Chmielewski: "Annual population estimates tell interesting stories about North Dakota's growth patterns"
July 2013

Ramona Danielson: "Learn how to make the ND Compass website work for you"
May 2013

Karen Olson: "About the American Community Survey (ACS)"
February 2013

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

© 2024. All rights reserved.