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Inventor Nicholas Powley on developing a culture of collaboration and innovation

When it comes to living your values, Nicholas Powley certainly took things literally. Soon after he sold a technology portfolio of vertically expandable spinal fusion devices, he decided that rather than focus solely on individual pursuits, he wanted to help create an innovative, communal space for inventors like himself. So he bought an unassuming bungalow in St. Paul and converted the basement and garage spaces into a machine shop and a laboratory.

Minnesota is well known as a leader in health and medical technology. List after list ranks the state highly as a center of medtech innovation and a thriving medical device hub. While this is great news, there’s another reality for Minnesota—the very real gap between being a state full of industry leaders and having a culture that fosters entrepreneurship in those industries.

Powley and his collaborators at CoCreateX are changing that. They provide not only the space, tools and emotional support aspiring innovators need to give tangible shape to ideas, but also opportunities to connect them with CEOs, investors, lawyers, experts and executives who can take their ideas further into corporate spaces.

At its core, CoCreateX is about “nurturing the sense of possibility in others” in as many ways as the community can provide. We at StoneArch were lucky enough to have Powley talk to us about what he’s learned along the way, and his insights and values are ones we could all learn from:

Invest in and nurture high-trust relationships. They’re the ones with long-term value. When you create a relationship with someone based on mutual encouragement and support, you have someone on your side for the long haul.

Collaboration is dependent upon a high-trust relationship where dissent and criticism are valued. Hard words from people you know have your best interests in mind can make or break the future success of your invention.

Organization is key to maximizing shared knowledge. Everything at Powley’s lab is neatly and clearly labeled and organized so that no newbie needs a lot of orientation to get right into the game. It’s a habit Powley learned from his cancer research days with Stanley J. Korsmeyer, a beloved mentor, who insisted that anyone who participated in his cancer research had to follow strict documentation rules.

Mentoring is a two-way street, not a top-down relationship. Both the experienced and the passionate beginner have insights and resources to share.

Growth requires putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Powley arrived in the Twin Cities with no connections and the self-awareness to know he’d need to overcome his shyness and meet new people. His solution? Volunteer photography at First Avenue. He photographed the crowds, connected with music fans and built his social and business network. To this day, the people he gave photos to at events have resulted in friendships and unexpected business opportunities.