Mary Mathews Legacy Award

Mary Mathews

The Mary Mathews Legacy Award

Mary Mathews founded the Entrepreneur Fund in 1989 with the goal of creating a vibrant entrepreneurial culture in our region.

Through strong leadership, Mary helped transform the lives of local business owners and drive business growth in northeast Minnesota, central Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin.

To honor her work, the Entrepreneur Fund recognizes small business owners who embody Mathew’s entrepreneurial vision through achieving significant milestones in growing revenues, adding jobs, impacting the community and becoming strong community leaders.

Tom Hanson, Owner of Duluth Grill, OMC Smokehouse and Corktown Deli

In 2017, Tom Hanson became the first award recipient. His work has had a profound impact on the Lincoln Park business district and is an excellent example of hard work, entrepreneurship, vision and growth.

Tom’s restaurants are Duluth staples, popular with locals and tourists alike. No trip to Duluth is complete without Sunday brunch at Duluth Grill. And if the immediate success of OMC Smokehouse is any indicator, we can continue to expect great things from Tom Hanson.

Tom Hanson receiving award

The Entrepreneur Fund Presents Erik and Jessica Lietz with the Mary Mathews Legacy AwardErik and Jessica Lietz, Owners of The Whistling Bird, Boomtown Woodfire and BoomTown Brewery

We are excited to present Erik and Jessica Lietz, founders and owners of popular Iron Range restaurants in Gilbert, Eveleth and Hibbing with the Mary Mathews Legacy Award. Their hard work and dedication have made economic impacts and support a culture of entrepreneurship in our region.

The family of restaurants the Lietzs have created are important pillars of their respective communities, providing residents and visitors alike with a great atmosphere for coming together to enjoy great food and drink. We’re happy to recognize their commitment to community with this award.

Janelle Riley, CEO of Syvantis TechnologiesJanelle Riley, CEO of Syvantis Technologies

An unwavering commitment to employee development, a unique approach to business and a profound drive to support her clients are just a few of the reasons Janelle Riley, CEO of Syvantis Technologies was recognized with the Mary Mathews Legacy Award in 2018.

Syvantis operates out of offices in Baxter and Minneapolis, Minnesota, providing integrated, industry-specific cloud solutions and business productivity software to organizations of all sizes. Riley offers high-quality, professional jobs, making Syvantis one of the top workplaces in central Minnesota.

Shawn Wellnitz, Entrepreneur Fund, Lory Fedo, Hibbing Chamber of Commerce and Julie George, Entrepreneur Fund.Lory Fedo, outgoing President of the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce

Lory Fedo joined the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce in 1991, during a tumultuous time when Iron Range cities were working to rebuild in the wake of mine closures. She believes in the power of community and supports the wide range of industries that lend great strength to our economy.

Under Lory’s leadership, the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce has worked closely with the Entrepreneur Fund on several key initiatives to attract and retain businesses to the Hibbing area.

Debra Emery and Steve Knauss, Owners of Thirsty Pagan Brewing

In February 2020, the Entrepreneur Fund was proud to present its Mary Mathew’s Legacy award to Debra Emery and Steve Knauss of Thirsty Pagan Brewing. A favorite local restaurant located in Superior, WI, the Thirsty Pagan Brewing has been serving up delicious food and fantastic brews since 2006. With their tasty offerings and consistent service, the Entrepreneur Fund is proud to have had the opportunity to support their original business plans by offering financial, educational and technical assistance over the years. Deb and Steve’s hard work and local impact has provided their community with multiple employment opportunities, increased their popular location’s capacity, and has allowed them to cultivate a long-lasting reputation. We’re happy to recognize their commitment to the Superior community with this award.

Thirsty Pagan receiving award


Award Criteria

Candidates must own businesses or contribute to the business sector in the Entrepreneur Fund’s 17-county region in northeast Minnesota, central Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin, and be a client of the Entrepreneur Fund in a financial and/or strategic capacity.

Candidates are also assessed on the following criteria:

  • Revenue: The business exemplifies innovation, professionalism and integrity and has shown an increase in gross revenues of at least 10 percent over one year.
  • Jobs: The business fosters a positive, fair and supportive environment for all employees and the business has added at least five new jobs or two FTEs to a community.
  • Community Impact: The business leads the way through reinvestment, community-minded business practices, and for the greater good of the community.
  • Community Leadership: The business serves their community with vision and integrity through innovation, growth, sound business practices, community responsibility and partnerships.

The Entrepreneur Fund plans to present the Mary Mathews Legacy Award to deserving entrepreneurs throughout the year.

Full-Spectrum Growth Support

In 2003, Mary Ann Olson purchased Cabinet Corner & Home Center. The Entrepreneur Fund partnered with her bank to provide acquisition funding. Later, during the recession, Olson kept the business solvent – her mantra is “I did not buy this business to fail”...