Northland Strong – Business Tips and Advice from Regional Entrepreneurs

Sometimes it hits you in the middle of the night. Sometimes it’s a dream that’s been sitting in the back of your mind for years. Sometimes a trusted friend or advisor shares a simple business tip that blooms into an idea. No matter the origin, when an entrepreneur lands on the perfect business idea, it’s like tossing dry kindling on a bed of embers. One small spark sets everything into motion.


Owning a business comes with unique challenges that lead to great accomplishments. And no entrepreneur needs to stand alone. Especially not in northern and central Minnesota and Wisconsin, where a culture of supportive entrepreneurship runs deep.

Those who seek to own and operate businesses here share many common traits. They’re smart, visionary and hard working. They don’t shy away from anything that needs doing. They’ll scrub toilets, run the till, help customers, place advertisements, woo clients, submit POs, handle monthly billing and so much more. They’re proud but humble. Most importantly, they’re driven to succeed.

When we start working with entrepreneurs – whether they’re seeking funding to launch a new endeavor or strategic support to target powerful growth – we often hear similar questions and concerns. While every business owner will tackle challenges in their own way, business tips from entrepreneurs who’ve been there will never go amiss.

How do I access financing to start or grow my business?

We’ve provided financing to hundreds of entrepreneurs over the past 30 years, and we know that asking for financial help is often a hard thing for an entrepreneur to do – especially the very first time.

When Ben Hugus, owner of Ursa Minor Brewing, was ready to take his homebrewing operation to the next level, he knew it’d come with a hefty price tag. Opening a destination brewery doesn’t happen overnight, after all. Having tapped all personal financial resources available, it was time to explore other financing options.

“We’ll always be grateful to our friends and family who believed in us enough to back us financially,” said Hugus. “But between leases, construction, renovation, equipment, payroll, training and more, we took a leap and partnered with the Entrepreneur Fund and the Northland Foundation to close the financial gaps. It’s the smartest move we’ve made yet.”

Pairing financing with business strategy ensures incredible results. Driven entrepreneurs have big dreams and a solid business plan for achieving their goals, no matter what. Flexible financing from a strategic partner makes all the difference.

How do I build a brand that stands out in the marketplace?

With new businesses opening every day, and technology that evolves faster than ever before, standing out in the market can be a very real challenge. No two businesses are exactly alike – but they might be very similar. It’s HOW you conduct business and engage with internal and external audiences that makes all the difference.

Syvantis Technologies in Baxter, Minnesota offers integrated, industry-specific cloud services to companies across the United States. That’s right, a technology company in central Minnesota serves a national client base. How? Because CEO Janelle Riley places a heavy focus on developing her internal team.

“Our company stands out because of the way we do business,” explained Riley. “We find excellent employees with great attitudes and a passion for learning, and then we train them in areas that suit their personal talents. Our commitment to our team radiates through every customer interaction, resulting in a loyal client base that grows right alongside Syvantis.”

Your brand is an organic and evolving piece of your company. Working with a trusted business advisor can help you harness your company’s particular strengths, strengthen brand awareness and attract your key target audience.

How does connecting with other entrepreneurs help?

Entrepreneurs are visionaries. They’re smart, ambitious and driven. But between focusing on running the business, driving sales, attracting customers, managing accounts and overseeing staff, there’s seemingly little time left to focus on building stronger networks of support.

It seems like everybody in the region knows Tom Hanson, owner of the Duluth Grill, OMC Smokehouse and Corktown Deli & Brews. He’ll tell you that’s by design, and that our regional culture of entrepreneurship is incredibly unique.

“What we’ve seen happening in Duluth over the past decade has been incredible,” said Hanson. “We’re all working together – entrepreneurs, economic developers, financial institutions, the local government. Business owners have to have supportive networks, people you can rely on. It’s the most direct path to finding success and living your dreams because no matter how much you want to, you can’t do it all.”

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely place at times. It might feel like you’re shouldering a lot of weight all on your own, but it is possible to share the load. Building a network of support – of trusted advisors and peers – is one of the best ways to maintain your energy and passion for what you do.

We’re doing a great job of working together to support small business growth in our region. That’s what makes us Northland Strong.

Every entrepreneur’s story is different – but you can always learn something from their trials, successes and any speedbumps along the way.