Entrepreneurship is alive and well in southern Minnesota. It’s a place I have called home for more than 27 years. I have had the privilege to serve this area the last 15 years through Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). As the Vice President of economic development for SMIF, I have worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs, each with their own dream and passion to follow their unique journey. I have also worked with many communities in SMIF’s 20-county region on economic development initiatives. Through these experiences, I have learned some important tips for creating an atmosphere for entrepreneurs to thrive that can be applied to any community.

As an advocate, support system coach and sometimes just as a listener, the hardest part of an entrepreneur’s journey can be isolation. I believe isolation continues to be one of the biggest barriers aspiring business owners face each day. Most entrepreneurs are eager to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. Our job as community leaders is to find them and get them connected to resources and to each other. 

Building a transformative community to support entrepreneurs is a key component to the work SMIF and partnering organizations strive to attain every day. Building the best systems to remove barriers, navigate resources, and grow community engagement brings great opportunities for towns and businesses to succeed together. It is possible to build thriving, sustainable communities when we choose to dedicate time to discovering the innovations created by people in their kitchens, garages, and basements. When we take the time to spend time with aspiring entrepreneurs, we grow a more resilient, sustainable and in many cases diversified economy over time.

I encourage communities to say “yes” to intentionally unleashing the power of entrepreneurs by implementing systems which grow businesses, such as the Energizing Entrepreneurs (E2) framework which provides guidance to communities for accelerating entrepreneurial activity. Co-Founded by Don Macke from Network Kansas, this framework has proven to dramatically change the course of economies in such places as Ord, NE and Tupelo, MS. SMIF has applied this model in 13 small towns in southern Minnesota through the Rural Entrepreneurial Ventures (REV) program that started in 2017.

Another process to create positive change in your community is to “asset-map” on a regular basis. As experts of your town, mapping the resources of your people, talents, money, and infrastructure will give you greater awareness of what you already have. It is easy and fun to leverage and connect the mapped resources to start or grow a project. You can even map your entrepreneurs to identify where they exist and what the gaps in support are for them to grow. You will be surprised at what you learn in the process, no matter how long you have lived in your community.

Conversations, connectivity with people, and inventorying community assets can catalyze a collaborative culture embraced by entrepreneurs.

 My “Ode to the Entrepreneur”

  • Give them space and they will innovate
  • Give them knowledge and they will accelerate
  • Give them hope and they will surprise you
  • Give them networks and they can dream together
  • Give them a voice and they will transform your community

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), a donor-supported foundation, invests for economic growth in the 20 counties of south central and southeastern Minnesota. The Foundation has provided more than $136 million in grants, loans and programming within the region during the past 35 years. SMIF’s key interests include early childhood, community and economic development. To learn more about our work and mission, visit www.smifoundation.org.