Entrepreneur Fund expands Wisconsin reach with $8 million grant
By 2025, the nonprofit will cover 13 counties in the northern part of the state.
SUPERIOR — The Duluth-based Entrepreneur Fund, which currently serves 16 counties in northeast Minnesota and Wisconsin’s Douglas County, unveiled plans to extend its reach to an additional 12 counties in northern Wisconsin at a press conference at the Superior Entrepreneurship Center Thursday, Oct. 27.
The move is fueled by $8 million in Diverse Business Assistance and Diverse Business Investment grants from the state of Wisconsin. The funding is aimed at helping small business owners start, grow and expand their businesses. The three-year grant will include $5 million in revolving loan funding and $500,000 for direct grants to businesses. The Entrepreneur Fund plans to add a second satellite office in northern Wisconsin.
“We’re really excited about being able to expand our services because we serve rural communities, and that’s something we do really, really well and so we feel like it’s a really good fit,” said Entrepreneur Fund communications director Carly Viegut. “And the funding is enabling us to do it in a really positive and powerful way to have the support behind it so we can do the work that we want to do.”
The Entrepreneur Fund, which has been around since 1989, currently serves 2,000 businesses annually, including about 100 in Douglas County. A certified community development institution, the nonprofit is dedicated to providing capital and support to small businesses in the region.
“We’re really focused on the growth of businesses and growth of employees and also startups,” said Dave Manion, chairman of the nonprofit’s board. “Anyone that works through our system on an entrepreneurial side, basically, they have an 89% success rate.”
With the addition of the 12 new counties — Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Iron, Price, Sawyer and Washburn in 2023; Florence, Forest, Marinette, Oneida and Vilas by 2025 — the Entrepreneur Fund will expand to serve an estimated 500 Wisconsin businesses.
“I think we’re all looking forward to what comes next in the room, putting this funding to work,” said board member Crystal Rhode.
The $8 million was part of a second round of Diverse Business grants, which Gov. Tony Evers funded with federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars. The grant programs garnered over 150 applications, according to Department of Administration Secretary-designee Kathy Blumenfeld. Only 50 were awarded. Blumenfeld said this grant program in particular really allows the state to go deeper and support more people, especially those that need the most help.
“And then having a revolving loan fund is awesome, because then it helps one business, as they pay back the money goes to help another business and another business so that money just has a life of its own,” Blumenfeld said.
Local entrepreneurs gathered for the announcement.
“I think it sounds exciting,” said Cal Harris, who owns Superior Waffles with his wife, Natalie. “I think that it just brings more opportunities and you know people that have wonderful ideas for businesses and they just don’t have the resources or the funds to be able to move that project forward. Hopefully some of that money can help with that.”
The Entrepreneur Fund recently helped the couple purchase a van to reach phase two of their business: catering.
“We’ve done baby showers and weddings … we’re hoping to do grad parties when that comes up,” Harris said. “And so it’s been a really cool experience with that.”
Ben Anderson and his wife, Mary, realized their dream of owning Eddie’s Supper Club with the aid of the Entrepreneur Fund. The nonprofit’s staff are great to work with, Anderson said.
“I think really approachable, very personable. I don’t think you’re just a number,” he said.
The Superior Entrepreneurship Center at 1401 Tower Ave. is a one-stop shop that includes offices for the Entrepreneur Fund, the Superior Business Development Center, the Development Association, the Superior Business Improvement District and the University of Wisconsin-Superior Small Business Development Center. It opened this year.
“I think this in itself has just sparked so much of a ripple effect,” Blumenfeld said of the center.
Visit https://www.entrepreneurfund.org/ for more information on the Entrepreneur Fund or to fill out an application.