‘Elevate’ gives a boost to small business entrepreneurs in Kandiyohi County



In a 2017 investigation, the Kandiyohi County and Town of Willmar Economic Development Commission found that an increasing number of minority-owned businesses were opening up in and around Willmar.

EDC’s report was sponsored by a grant from the Southwest Initiative Foundation to design and implement a business retention and expansion program for various businesses in the Willmar area.

Elevate is a program specially designed for underserved minority entrepreneurs in Kandiyohi County. The program was created in conjunction with Rising Tide Capital to help individuals start and grow successful businesses in their communities through collaborations with other nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies.

“This (Elevate) program was put in place here to invest in people who choose to live, start or grow their businesses in Willmar because that’s where they want their families, kids and businesses. are thriving, ”said Diana Anderson, President and CEO of Fondation Initiative Sud-Ouest. “This program invests in the people who want to be here, the people we want to be here. “

Elevate was not the first program reviewed by the foundation and the Economic Development Commission, but it was the first that met the needs of the community, said Connie Schmoll, former director of business development for EDC. She continues to work under contract for EDC on broadband planning.

Schmoll led the implementation of Willmar’s business retention and expansion program before retiring in May.

“We have a lot of great entrepreneurs with great ideas,” Schmoll said. “They don’t necessarily have a background in business management. Even if they do.

The lack of certain skills became increasingly evident as the pandemic swept across the country, leaving many businesses in dire need.

“In terms of (asking for) some of the grants we had during the pandemic, that’s where we really saw the need for basic training,” Schmoll said, “because people had to put their skills together. Their finances and accounting skills didn’t allow them to really submit good financial statements for their business.We really had to help a lot of people (through) this process.

After starting and running his own business for more than 10 years, Abdilahi Omar, owner of Ainu-Shams grocery store, ended up needing financial help to get through the tough times brought on by the pandemic.

After getting help with his papers at EDC, Omar enrolled and was accepted into the Elevate program.

Omar said he was able to acquire skills in “finance” and “technology”, saying these skills were “limiting factors” in running a successful business.

“Homework lessons are all about your business,” said Stephanie Thompson, owner of Wings Gymnastics. “So if you do them, you are helping your business. If you don’t, you are only hurting your business. So it was great to be able to put your business homework and really understand the numbers and what you need to do to improve your business.

One of the last assignments for the class was to write a business brief on their business or planned future activities, with the best brief being assigned a new laptop. Schmoll read the winning brief aloud; Omar smiled as his brief was read.

EDC and the Southwest Initiative Foundation would like to train more trainers to continue to implement the program in Kandiyohi County and expand to include other counties in the state.

“We hope to find funding partners for the expansion in another community, and also to keep it sustainable in Willmar,” said Scott Marquardt, senior vice president of the foundation. “The goal is to make the program affordable for entrepreneurs.”

A fall 2021 Elevate class will begin in September, with briefings starting this month. Information is available on Elevate’s website at elevatebusinessacademy.com, and interested parties can inquire about the program at elevate@kandiyohi.com or check EDC’s social media pages for dates around mid-year. July.

Raising Graduates:

  • Abdiqani Mahamed, Hikam Trucking

  • Abdilahi Omar, Ainu-Shams grocery store

  • Hteh Hteh Hta Rue, the Asian market in Chaw

  • Stéphanie Thompson, wing gymnastics

  • Abdiweli Yusuf, Amin Grocery



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