Guest Commentary: Celebrating entrepreneurs

Published 6:30 am Saturday, February 27, 2021

By Tim Penny

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation President/CEO

National Entrepreneurship Week takes place each year in late February. This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the entrepreneurs that are such a vital part of our economy and communities here in southern Minnesota. At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), we are excited to celebrate the well-deserved recognition that many of the entrepreneurs we work with have recently received.

Email newsletter signup

In the 35 years that SMIF has been serving our 20-county region, we have invested $33.4 million in entrepreneurs through equity and loans. We also support entrepreneurs through technical assistance, peer networks and other programming. In just the past several months we have had a front row seat to some exciting successes and have had the pleasure of watching some of the companies SMIF has invested in flourish and receive various awards. The businesses cited below are small but mighty and are part of our growing local economy.

We are anxiously awaiting the first week of March when Oronoco-based Busy Baby will be on the popular investment show, “Shark Tank.” Busy Baby produces a silicone mat with suction cups and tethers that secure to a baby’s highchair or other surfaces to keep toys from falling on the ground. In 2019, Busy Baby received an equity investment from SMIF’s Seed Fund to support the development of the playmat, cover intellectual property expenses and develop retail packaging. The business has grown rapidly, and we supported that growth with a loan for inventory in 2020. Beth Fynbo, the owner of Busy Baby, also participates in SMIF’s CEO Peer Network where she learns from and shares advice with other CEOs in the region. On March 5 we’ll be able to see if she receives any investment offers when her Shark Tank episode airs on ABC. Regardless of the outcome of the show, we have already seen Busy Baby achieve great success and can’t wait to see what the future holds for her business.

Several of SMIF’s loan clients that participate in our FEAST! Local Food Peer Network have recently received recognition, as well. Grandma’s Gourmets, owned by Kim Olson in Albert Lea, was named a winner of the 2021 Good Food Awards for their Blueberry Lavender Jam in the Preserves category. With more than 2,000 entries every year, the competition is strong – only three food crafters from each region received the honor.

Curly Girlz Candy, owned by Paula Trenda in Owatonna, was not only named the 2020 Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year, but they were also named an Emerging Brand through The Big Find, an international search to discover entrepreneurs with the next big brand or unique product.

Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm, owned by Emily Knudsen and Bill Bartz in Waseca, was featured in a New York Times article about how pizza farms are an emerging and unique business model. All of these entrepreneurs are changing the landscape of our communities each and every day.

It’s an honor to see the businesses we’ve invested in receiving this recognition. Here at SMIF, we are humbled to be a small piece of their success which, in turn, adds to the overall success of southern Minnesota.

To learn more about our loan and equity funds, visit