WILLMAR – Learning how to successfully prepare, operate and manage a small business over the course of 12 weeks, five local entrepreneurs graduated on June 16 from the first
class in Minnesota.
In a 2017 survey, the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission found that an increasing number of minority-owned businesses were opening in and around Willmar.
EDC’s report was sponsored by a grant from
to design and implement a business retention and expansion program for various businesses in the Willmar area.
Elevate is a program specifically designed for underserved minority entrepreneurs in Kandiyohi County. The program was created in collaboration with
to help individuals start and grow successful businesses in their communities through collaborations with other nonprofits, businesses, and public agencies.
“This (Elevate) program was introduced here to invest in people who choose to live, start or grow their businesses in Willmar because that’s where they want their families, children and businesses to thrive” said Diana Anderson, President and CEO of Southwest Initiative Foundation. “This program invests in people who want to be here, people we want to be here.”
Elevate wasn’t the first program the foundation and the Economic Development Commission looked at, but it was the first that addressed the needs of the community, said Connie Schmoll, former director of business development at 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 has become increasingly evident as the pandemic has swept the country, leaving many businesses in dire need.
“As for (applying for) some of the grants we’ve had during the pandemic, that’s where we really saw the need for basic training,” Schmoll said, “because people had to put their finance and accounting skills didn’t allow them to really present 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, ended up needing financial help to get through the difficult times brought about by the pandemic.
After getting help with his paperwork at EDC, Omar enrolled and was accepted into the Elevate program.
Omar said he was able to learn skills in ‘finance’ and ‘technology’, saying those skills had been ‘limiting factors’ in running a successful business.
“Homework lessons are 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 in the homework and really understand the numbers and what you need to do to improve your business.
One of the last tasks given to the class was to write a business case about their business or planned future business, with the best case receiving a new laptop. Schmoll read aloud the winning brief; Omar smiled as he read his memoir.
EDC and the Southwest Initiative Foundation would like to train more trainers to continue implementing the program in Kandiyohi County and expand to include other counties in the state.
“We hope to find financial partners for expansion into 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 Elevation course will begin in September, with information sessions beginning this month. Information is available on the Elevate website at
and interested parties can inquire about the program at email@example.com or check EDC’s social media pages for dates around mid-July.
Abdiqani Mahamed, Hikam Trucking
Abdilahi Omar, Ainu-Shams grocery store
Hteh Hteh Hta Rue, Chaw Asian Market
Stephanie Thompson, Gymnastics Wings
Abdiweli Yusuf, Amin grocery store
1/3: Working to launch this program since 2017, former EDC Business Development Manager Connie Schmoll was thrilled to see, as she dubbed them, the “fabulous five” graduate from the first Elevate course in Willmar on June 16, 2021. Tim Speier / West Central Tribune
2/3: Clearing a plate from his tea room on June 18, 2021, Abdilahi Omar opened the Ainu-Shams grocery store more than 10 years ago and recently moved into a larger space and discovered that the Elevate program gave him the tools to make more informed business decisions. Tim Speier / West Central Tribune
3/3: After completing the 12-week Elevate course on June 16, 2021, students will walk away with a better understanding of how to successfully run a business. From left to right: Stephanie Thompson, Wings Gymnastics; Abdiweli Yusuf, Amin Grocery; Abdilahi Omar, Ainu-Shams grocery store; Abdiqani Mahamed, Hikam Trucking; Hteh Hteh Hta Rue, the Asian market in Chaw. Tim Speier / West Central Tribune