prairie den

‘Silicon Prairie’

prairie den
The Prairie Den has work space for startups.

For Sam Mayer, Fargo seemed like an unlikely spot for a technology haven, but “the Silicon Prairie” has grown on him.

“I think that Fargo is a surprisingly strong tech hub,” the senior in computer science said. “I never pegged the area as a place for companies such as Microsoft, for example. The startup scene is pretty decent as well; several of my friends are working on some cool projects.”

As a software engineering intern at the 6-month-old OmniByte Technologies startup, Mayer mainly works at the company’s tech incubator like many students in his field, he said. Fargo and North Dakota State, for that matter, have a lot to offer, he added.

“I know of students who have taken advantage of the tech incubator program to gain experience,” he said. “The (computer science department) has some cool opportunities through the capstone class as well.”

Along with NDSU’s CyberSec conference and the overall tech environment of Fargo, “I think that’s a good indicator of how forward-learning the area is,” Mayer added.


Much of Fargo’s tech beginnings can be attributed to Great Plains Software and its $1.1 billion acquisition by Microsoft, guided by Doug Burgum in 2001.

Scott Brusven, director and partnerships and events at Emerging Prairie, said the impact continues from the individuals who grew Great Plains Software.

“There are many people who were on the team that grew Great Plains and now those people are also impacting these other companies,” he said. “They’re working for them or they’re partnering with them. There’s a lot of success tories of those who have gone on after the Great Plains transition.”

Annie Word, Emerging Prairie’s director of community programs, said the Great Plains acquisition “was certainly a catalyst,” and Microsoft sent a signal that Fargo’s “a place where tech companies can be successful.”

Downtown Fargo, for example, is the stronghold for startups with the Prairie Den coworking space and numerous companies making their home in the city center.

Brusven, former artistic director for Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre, said he was drawn to the tech hub from his 1 Million Cups participation. One Million Cups is a weekly event showcasing a local startup or new idea for potential participants and growth.

“Looking at it now and working in the industry, there’s groups starting all the time,” Brusven said, adding, “The pulse has gotten really strong.”

From drones to ecommerce to ag industry developments, Fargo’s tech sector “just continues to bubble,” he said.

“I think when you have the undercurrent of these small startup corporations, it impacts the mega corporations,” Brusven said.

Silicon Prairie 

Fargo’s significance on “the Silicon Prairie” has drawn attention from Fortune magazine and The New York Times for its diamond-in-the-rough status.

The Silicon Prairie, a term Emerging Prairie defines as “a multistate region comprised of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri,” is somewhat like Silicon Valley, California’s success, but different in a way, Wood said. Fargo wants “to think differently about how we can support each other.”

“We’re in a very unique time in our community’s history,” she said. “There’s people here who want to build their lives here.”

Emerging Prairie, which focuses on the Dakotas’ and Minnesota’s tech sectors, promotes Fargo’s tech hub through events, online listings and collaborations.

Wood highlighted NDSU and other area universities’ strength in the tech sector as well.

“I think that our universities play a very important role in Fargo being able to grow,” she said, adding they “allow us to draw a large number of young people every year to the community.”

Area success

While Mayer said he found unexpected success with tech positions in Fargo, he will be moving to Minneapolis-St. Paul, having been offered jobs by several companies there. Right now, he is working on a tactical network visualizer with a Twin Cities-based company.

Meanwhile, the tech arena will continue to grow in Fargo, Wood said, especially in healthcare and agriculture. In fact, the three-day Startup Weekend event from March 4-6 offers networking and presentations at Concordia College, the Fargo Theatre and the Prairie Den.

North Dakota as a whole may be on the tech bandwagon soon too, Mayer added.

“While North Dakota may not be known for its computing side, I wouldn’t be surprised if that started to change, as it already is,” he said.

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