Tim Penny: Creating more equitable local economies

Published 6:13 pm Friday, February 18, 2022

On the heels of celebrating National Entrepreneurship Week, I am taking some time to reflect on what it means to be welcoming to entrepreneurs in our local economies. Entrepreneurship comes in many forms – from tech companies to home-based businesses. The spark of entrepreneurship also comes from many different people. However, not everyone has equal access to resources – whether due to an historic inequity, a language barrier, a disability or other reasons. That is why, at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) we are proud to support minority entrepreneurs through our Prosperity Initiative program.

Prosperity Initiative clients commit to a six-month period of working directly with an experienced business coach for a total of 40 hours. Additionally, clients connect monthly with other entrepreneurs participating in the program through peer network meetings to discuss challenges and successes. All of the resources that are shared are free for participating businesses.

When the Prosperity Initiative was created in 2016, its mission was to help remove barriers to success for entrepreneurs who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color, including new immigrants to our region. While this still holds true, at its core this program is about removing barriers to success for all minority entrepreneurs. That is why this year we have expanded the eligibility to also include entrepreneurs who identify as women, veterans, low-income and/or a person with disabilities. This follows the definition of a minority entrepreneur as set by Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s (DEED)’s Emerging Entrepreneur Loan Program of which we are a partner. DEED also generously funds the Prosperity Initiative.

More than 80 entrepreneurs have graduated from this program since it began six years ago. The businesses that have grown from participating in this program include clothing stores, restaurants, grocery stores, a cleaning service, a landscaping service, a home fragrance spray and even a Spanish immersion preschool. One by one, these entrepreneurs are making a difference in their local economies.

Angel Uribe’s Eagle Lake-based business, Stages of Change Center, empowers individuals to rethink their relationship with drugs or alcohol. She began the business in 2011 with no financing or support. In 2016, she joined the Prosperity Initiative which helped her develop business competencies and strategies that are still helping her navigate her business with greater confidence today. Angel also serves on SMIF’s Board of Trustees.

Husband and wife team, Jose Rodriguez and Cecilia Cifuentes, own West Oakland Auto in Austin. They first connected with SMIF in 2012 for a loan which helped grow their business. In 2016, they received a second SMIF loan, this time to help them expand into their own space, a building which they now own. In the midst of these changes, Cecilia participated in the Prosperity Initiative and enjoyed being able to learn with and from other entrepreneurs who were experiencing similar challenges.

These incredible entrepreneurs are making a difference in southern Minnesota. When we remove barriers to success, we create opportunities for innovation and growth in our local economies.

If you are interested in joining the Prosperity Initiative, apply at smifoundation.org/prosperity by Feb. 23, 2022. The program will begin the second week of March and run through September 2022. Contact Maddy Fisher, economic development specialist, at maddyf@smifoundation.org or 507-214-7029 with questions.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at timp@smifoundation.org or 507-455-3215