By Neela Mollgaard, executive director of Red Wing Ignite
If you've been wondering about the work of Red Wing Ignite, we'd like to share how we serve our community, region and state. Let's start by focusing on one of RWI's primary areas of service - entrepreneurs.
Thus far in 2019 over 40 entrepreneurs have sought to ignite their idea to reality with the guidance of Red Wing Ignite. The sectors we have served range from business services, manufacturing, health care, general technology and agriculture; with 20% in the idea stage, 50% in the early stages, and 30% in advanced and/or established businesses.
What do entrepreneurs and RWI have in common? - a desire to solve problems.
Every successful new business is solving a problem not currently being addressed in the marketplace, the same is true for the success of Red Wing Ignite. We have developed a foundation in rural Minnesota to support entrepreneurs and emerging businesses. We help by connecting resources, people and talent. We provide them the opportunity to develop their ideas through the assistance of business mentors, technical expertise, investors, and competitions.
What is the process of supporting an entrepreneur? To move entrepreneurs through business stage development - from idea, to prototype, to customer validation, to investors and finally to the marketplace.
Here are two portraits of entrepreneurs that showcase how we helped them move forward, in a process fraught with barriers, so they can reach their goal of making a competitive product.
As the statewide hub for US Ignite, Red Wing Ignite hosted an Ag Tech Challenge, seeking new technologies to improve outcomes for agriculture and farming. We partnered with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute and Grow North to participate in the Twin Cities Start Up - Food, Ag, Idea Week. This is where we launched the Ag Tech Challenge with expert panelists from Cargill, Syngenta Ventures, Rover Robotics, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, Deep Green and US Ignite. Semi-finalists "pitched" their ideas to a panel of judges in January.
Our first featured entrepreneur, Jack Kilian, developed the idea for a "Poultry Patrol" robot. He applied to RWI's challenge and became one of the top three semifinalists. Kilian, as the first place winner, received $15K in cash and in-kind awards. The runner up, Mark Swanson (Minnesota State College Southeast), received $2,500 as semi-finalist and was approached by a member of the audience to pursue funding the remainder of his project. The event connected both semifinalists to investors, customers, mentors and media. Poultry Patrol is solving problems for turkey farms by designing a robot to monitor the health of turkeys.
"The Ag Tech challenge gave me a reason to explore an idea and realize just how valuable it could be. With Red Wing Ignite's help, I was quickly able to get in contact with the people I needed to vet and validate that Poultry Patrol was actually valuable and worth pursuing. Now I feel confident I can make Poultry Patrol a reality and I have the support from a dozen contacts all thanks to Red Wing Ignite." - Jack Kilian
Our second featured entrepreneur, Beth Fynbo with Busy Baby, has worked with RWI and participated in a different competitive event - the Ignite Cup. Red Wing Ignite formed a partnership with MN Cup, the largest statewide new venture competition.
In April, RWI hosted our fourth annual Ignite Cup event with five semifinalists pitching their idea/product. Fynbo won the Ignite Cup giving her an automatic semifinalist position in the MN Cup Competition taking place in June. Busy Baby to solve problems for parents with very young children.
Fynbo's path to RWI came from a Small Business Development Corporation referral. Since she won the Ignite Cup, she pitched to the Golden Triangle Angel Fund, a local group of investors and business mentors.
"When I first came up with my business idea, I didn't know where to start. I came to Red Wing Ignite to see if they could help. Neela Mollgaard got me pointed in the right direction to get going! Red Wing Ignite continues to be an amazing resource to connect my business with the local resources I need each step of the way as Busy Baby continues to grow." - Beth Fynbo
What are the benefits to our community?
Creating an innovative culture over the last five years enables RWI to serve entrepreneurs in this manner. Through partnerships, collaboration, and events, Red Wing Ignite has created an innovative ecosystem in rural Minnesota that not only attracts entrepreneurs and people with ideas, but national recognition for developing a model that serves rural America. This work will keep our community competitive. Whenever possible, RWI nurtures entrepreneur's ideas and helps bring them to reality.
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