Q&A: Get to know EFund business advisor Mike Gilbertson based near Lake Vermilion

October 4, 2022

The Entrepreneur Fund’s new business advisor joins us from the Cook end of Lake Vermilion. Mike Gilbertson was first introduced to Vermilion when I was in high school and has had “a love affair with the lake ever since.”

“The beauty of the lake is so captivating,” said Mike, who has owned a cabin on the lake for nearly 30 years. “It’s a wonderful place to live.”

Mike will be working with small business owners in the northern St. Louis County area, including the Iron Range. Get to know a bit more about him in this quick Q&A.

What experience do you have supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs?

I’ve been fortunate to be involved with two start-up businesses in my career.  The first was a blue cheese company in Faribault, MN. The plant had been closed and sat empty for many years.  It’s probably the most unique cheese plant in the U.S. with a network of caves that provide a perfect environment for aging cheese. The startup was rough, as most are, with multiple issues (namely cash flow due to high inventory costs related to aging the cheese), but we slowly made progress adding retailers like Hy-Vee, HEB (Texas), Wegman’s (East Coast), and others.  But it was having Trader Joe’s use the cheese exclusively for their private label program that put the company on solid ground. The company was eventually sold to Swiss Valley, a large dairy cooperative located in Iowa.  The second startup was a bank in Faribault, MN.  I was one of seven local investors that formed a holding company, did the market research, raised the capital (there were about 100 shareholders) and opened the bank.  It remains a thriving community bank today.  These two opportunities have given me unique experiences for helping others start and grow their businesses.

What drew you to want to work at the Entrepreneur Fund?

The notion that I can use my experience to help others develop their companies is very appealing to me.    

What are you passionate about at work? What motivates you?

Given that I have a sales background, it’s about “getting the business.”  There is nothing more rewarding than getting the first order from an important customer.  Also, I really love working with people and developing relationships. I’ve been blessed with crossing paths with many wonderful people in my career.   

What was your first paying job?

Loading the Old Dutch potato chip truck in eighth grade.  Low pay, but lots of snacks!

If you could own/operate any type of business, what would it be and why?

A small, niche boat manufacturing company.  I have a passion for boating so it’s a logical dream for me. 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Spending time with family, my two black labs (Smokey and Ranger), and boating on Lake Vermilion. 

If we found ourselves near Lake Vermilion for the day, where should we go? What should we do? Where should we eat?

First, visit the underground mine in the Tower/Sudan State Park and then head over to the Vermilion Club for a pizza. 

Welcome to the team, Mike! We can’t wait to see all the amazing things you will do to help businesses and communities in northern Minnesota thrive.  

To get in touch with Mike or our other business advisors, you can fill out this short form and a team member will get back to you shortly.