Social Entrepreneurs from Central, Southwest and West Central Minnesota in the running for seven two-year, $60,000 fellowship opportunities
HUTCHINSON, Minn.— A pool of 80 applicants has been narrowed to 15 finalists for the Initiators Fellowship serving Central, Southwest and West Central Minnesota. Follwoing an Oct. 25 pitch day, seven fellows will be chosen from among the finalists to participate in the two-year program.
“We were blessed with a rich and deep pool of socially enterprising applicants,” said Jeff Wig, vice president of entrepreneurship with the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation. “It’s a testament to how much potential and commitment there is for growth and innovation in Greater Minnesota.”
The Initiators Fellowship originated with the Initiative Foundation in 2017 as a way to help aspiring social entrepreneurs fast-track their ideas, grow their social and professional networks and further develop their business and community leadership skills. The program, which graduated four fellows in 2019, provides a $30,000 annual stipend along with an executive-level mentor, comprehensive programming, educational opportunities and support from dedicated staff members.
The expanded Initiators Fellowship program will support seven fellows from across 41 Greater Minnesota counties: three in the Initiative Foundation’s Central Minnesota service area and two each in the Southwest Initiative Foundation and West Central Initiative service areas.
“We are proud of all our finalists,” said Scott Marquardt, Southwest Initiative Foundation’s vice president and lead staff for the Initiators Fellowship in the southwest region. “We were impressed by the diversity, caliber and number of applicants from our region. It speaks to the strong spirit of entrepreneurship in southwest Minnesota. We’re excited to see new and growing ventures take off through this unique fellowship opportunity.”
The 15 finalists represent a diverse range of interests—from an entrepreneur with a year-round, high-efficiency hydroponic growing system to a community-based placemaking arts programmer to a social justice champion who aspires to create a social enterprise model that provides legal representation to income-eligible immigrants and refugees. Here’s a closer look:
Finalists from the Southwest Initiative Foundation’s region, which includes the 18 counties and two Native Nations of southwest Minnesota:
Jessica Gorman | Renville County | Arts & Placemaking
Part artist, part historian, Gorman’s vision is to generate new interest in old spaces and places through arts-based strategies. Her venture would connect rural artists to help communities creatively problem-solve in meaningful, vibrant ways.
Anne O’Keefe-Jackson | Lower Sioux Indian Community | Tribal Arts
A member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community, O’Keefe-Jackson’s enterprise is to increase availability and access to traditional art supplies for native artists coupled with a space to exhibit artwork and to host performance artists.
Johnnie Schmidt | Meeker County | Organic Gardening
To increase food and job security and to elevate awareness, Schmidt’s venture would teach those who are interested how to build and run an intensive organic market garden, community garden and farm incubator on an urban, no-till organic farm.
Erin Schutte Wadzinski | Nobles County | Immigration
After spending a decade on the east coast earning a law degree, Schutte-Wadzinksi deliberately returned to Worthington to put her skills to work. Her venture is an immigrant-focused law firm with below-market, fixed-rate legal fees.
Additional finalists include:
Eunice Adjei | Benton County | Intergenerational Child Care
Adjei’s goal is to create an intergenerational child care solution that will enable families to join the workforce and become more self-reliant. The goal is to leverage inclusion and equity and to bridge the economic gap.
Jonathan Friesner | Crow Wing County | Hydroponics
Friesner is bringing to market GroShed, an automated hydroponic growing system that allows for year-round produce, even in the depths of a Minnesota winter. The stand-alone GroShed building is heated solely by four LED grow lights. Learn more at groshed.org.
Bradley Harrington | Mille Lacs County | Ojibwe Media
A member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Harrington’s social enterprise venture is to use contemporary media to engage and elevate awareness of Ojibwe customs and to improve understanding and the self-identity of the Anishinaabe people.
Emily Kreklau | Wadena County | Healthy Family Dynamics
Kreklau’s venture provides communication skills and parenting resources for families in the foster care and family court systems. Through classes and coaching, and by creating a safe place for visitations, Kreklau’s aim is to restore healthy family dynamics.
Hamdia Mohamed | Stearns County | Sober Homes
Mohamed’s venture creates safe, secure sober homes to alleviate isolation and provide services for those experiencing depression, addiction and homelessness. Wrap-around services include transportation and social services support.
Alise Sjostrom | Stearns County | Sustainable Agriculture
Sjostrom, who launched a cheese-making operation, Redhead Creamery, on her family’s dairy farm, is working on an agritourism and agritainment model that builds excitement and trust around locally produced foods. Learn more at redheadcreamery.com.
Marc Van Herr | Stearns County | Mental Health Care
Marc Van Herr can attest that there’s a shortcoming in the mental health care system that can leave patients waiting for weeks to see a therapist. His vision is to expand a rapid-response program that would provide access to a therapist within 24 hours of a crisis.
Barbara Clauson | Stevens County | Community-Building
Clauson and her partner were intentional about choosing Chokio as their home. Now, Clauson wants to connect her town by providing a reimagined community gathering space through the transformation of a traditional small-town cafe.
Verna Kragnes | Clay County | Land Stewardship
As a pioneering voice in community-supported agriculture, Kragnes’s Farmland Conservation Partners venture would focus on enhancing local food security and farm-community sustainability by creating partnerships among farmers, community and the land.
Elke Richards | Douglas County | Local Foods Market
Inspired by the legacy she’d like to leave, Richards’ venture is Venn Hagen, a market that offers locally raised, sustainable foods with a focus on food security and waste reduction. Also central to the vision are living-wage pay and growing a healthy community.
Rachel Stone | Clay County | Youth Leadership
As an educator, Stone’s venture is to equip young people with the knowledge and skills they need to manage daily activities and confidently face new situations while creating pathways to educational and entrepreneurial opportunities.
About the Fellowship
This cohort of the Initiators Fellowship runs from January 2020 through December 2021. The goal is to strengthen each Fellow’s leadership within their respective communities and to support the growth and development of their social enterprise ideas in order to help Greater Minnesota communities thrive.
About the Funders
The Initiators Fellowship is made possible by generous funders, including Granite Equity Partners, an original founding funder and partner, along with the Bush Foundation, Sourcewell and CliftonLarsonAllen Foundation.