Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development aims to stem a decades-long decline in entrepreneurship with its new Launch Minnesota initiative.
The initiative is a statewide effort to bring entrepreneurial support organizations together on a regional basis to better support and nurture entrepreneurs, says Stacy Nimmo, executive director of Red Wing Ignite, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that helped to pilot what is known as E1, Entrepreneurs First. Entrepreneurs First, which covers the 11 most southeastern counties in Minnesota, is one of six hubs that comprise Launch Minnesota. The other hubs are in northeastern, northwestern, southwestern and west-central Minnesota and the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
E1 will have a showcase Jan. 21 to celebrate entrepreneurs and those who support them. Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, will join entrepreneurs from southeastern Minnesota for the online event, set for 4 to 6 p.m. Entrepreneurs will represent all stages of startup, Nimmo says. Featured entrepreneurs include:
- Beth Fynbo, Busy Baby, Oronoco
- Joselyn Ramundo, Rochester Home Fusion, Rochester
- Chris Lukenbill, Shrpa, Rochester
- Alisa Song, Nanodropper, Rochester
- Susan Langer, Live.Give.Save., Red Wing
- Annie Balow, Thai Pop, Rochester
- *Alijah Nelson, JockLab, Red Wing/Minneapolis
The Farmer visited with Nimmo recently to learn more about entrepreneurs and E1.
Why are entrepreneurs important? Between 1988 and 2016, the rate of rural self-employment fell by more than 20%, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. That’s important because, in general, small businesses created 2 of 3 new jobs created nationwide. Today 1 of every 10 startups are in rural areas.
How does E1 help entrepreneurs? Our focus is really to work collectively to elevate and support entrepreneurs while coordinating and leveraging our resources.
The DEED Launch Minnesota grant allowed Red Wing Ignite to expand Entrepreneurs First to 16 partner organizations in the 11 counties served in southeastern Minnesota, all focused on supporting entrepreneurs in the region.
The southeastern Minnesota region is rural with the exception of the Rochester metropolitan area, which has a medical technology entrepreneurial focus.
E1 is striving to build a collaborative group to support entrepreneurs. On a weekly basis, there are probably a dozen calls between the partners to talk about entrepreneurs, their needs and how best to support them. The partners are breaking down their silos to reach out and focus on a common goal of supporting entrepreneurs.
Who are partners in E1? Partners include Austin Community Growth Ventures, Collider, Community and Economic Development Associates, Destination Medical Center, Garage CoWork Space, GreenSeam, HACER, Kabara Institute of St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, Northfield Enterprise Center, Red Wing Ignite, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, St. Olaf College, StartUp Winona, Small Business Development Centers and University of Minnesota Extension.
E1 is designed “to enhance regional connectivity among builders and stakeholders in 11 counties within southeastern Minnesota.” What does that mean? The idea of an “entrepreneurial ecosystem” may be foreign to some, but research has shown that entrepreneurs flourish when they are surrounded by a wide variety of supporters. Venture capitalist Brad Feld says there are four elements to a startup community, including engaging entrepreneurs and being entrepreneur driven.
What barriers do rural entrepreneurs face? Rural entrepreneurs face barriers not found in urban areas, including internet connectivity, access to labor and access to funding. Less than 1% of all venture capital is invested in rural areas, according to the Center on Rural Innovation. In fact, 80% of venture capital in the U.S. goes to five cities, concentrated in Silicon Valley and the East Coast.
Another challenge is the lack of population density, which makes it harder to find resources to support an entrepreneur with an idea.
Rural entrepreneurs also face internal barriers, as they don’t see other entrepreneurs like them being successful. There is a lack of awareness of entrepreneurial opportunities and a perception by those who don’t live in rural areas that rural areas are not innovative.
What kind of resources can E1 provide to entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurs First offers standalone workshops, mentoring, and there is some funding available in the form of technical assistance. Entrepreneurs can access E1 for help with patent research, writing a business plan or developing a marketing plan. E1 can also refer entrepreneurs to other funding opportunities.
The organization is working on building peer networks throughout the region. It really is making that one-on-one personal connection with individuals throughout the region. One bright spot of the pandemic is that all of E1’s programming has moved online, which makes it more accessible.
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Kubat Willette is a Farm Progress digital content creator.