Pictured above: Dr. Ronald Ferguson – Local Entrepreneur, Professor of Sociology & Stride Program Advisor
Advancing Economic Justice through Entrepreneurship
The Entrepreneur Fund has launched a comprehensive program to advance economic justice through entrepreneurship. The Stride program is designed to create a low barrier entry and peer focus to business ownership and growth for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs. Participants will gain individualized support, accountability, and networks to grow their confidence as entrepreneurs.
“Our goal is to provide the opportunity and strategic support to grow the wealth and economic advancement of BIPOC individuals through entrepreneurship in our community,” said Shawn Wellnitz, President and CEO of the Entrepreneur Fund. “It has become apparent that CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institution) such as ours hold a unique opportunity to provide targeted resources to elevate communities. We’re excited to bring entrepreneurs and leaders together across the region and strengthen the ecosystem in serving people of color.”
First Program of Its Kind in the Region
Those eligible for the program include aspiring and current entrepreneurs who reside within the Entrepreneur Fund’s 17-county region across northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. The first Stride cohort begins this month and is targeting participation across rural, native, and urban communities.
“As we launch our first program cohort it’s exciting to see culturally centric groups of entrepreneurs meet each other to share successes, struggles, and ideas, while also participating in learning opportunities to develop business skills,” says Andrea Black, Director of Business Services at the Entrepreneur Fund.
The program is the first of its kind in the region. Participants have access to two track options: Start-Up for those ready to launch a business and Level-Up for those with existing businesses who want to expand. Both tracks offer BIPOC entrepreneurs access to grants, 0% interest loans, business courses and one-on-one strategic advising.
“People are really excited about the program and eager to get going,” said Stephanie Williams, the lead business advisor for Stride. “The grants and access to no interest capital combined with courses and access to expertise is a great jumping off point for those who are ready to start or expand their business.”
Support from a Community of Local Leaders
Steering the program is an advisory committee comprised of successful entrepreneurs and leaders of color. The committee is responsible for shaping targeted strategies and meaningful resources by providing insights, networks and support to Stride participants.
Dr. Chiamaka Ememuoh is a Stride advisor and the Owner of Lifestone Health Care in Proctor, MN, she shared,
“I’m choosing to be on the Stride Advisory Committee because I am a minority business owner and very excited to have my business in the area. And when I was building my business, I didn’t have a lot of support. It wasn’t easy. And I would love to be able to help other minority entrepreneurs build their own business in this area. It is definitely a lot of hard work. And I look forward to every support I can give each individual to be able to be successful as well.”
Stride advisor, Lanie Dixon, who is the Vice President of Patient Experience at Essentia Health shared,
“What I would love to see in the next five to ten years is a real surge in businesses that serve the population of color that this area should want to try to attract. It will make it easier for us to be here, thrive here, and raise families here. I would love to see this program create a community of businesses that allow that to happen.”
A Meaningful Step Forward in Access to Entrepreneurship
“At the Entrepreneur Fund we believe entrepreneurs and small businesses have the profound power to shape thriving and inclusive communities across our region,” said Wellnitz. “Increasing access to entrepreneurship for our communities of color increases community vibrancy, diversifies local economies and tackles systematic issues. Much work is yet to be done, but we are proud of this meaningful step forward.”
The Stride program is funded in part by Wells Fargo, Otto Bremer Trust, SBA Prime, Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation and the Blandin Foundation.
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