BEMIDJI -- LaValley Industries opened its doors to current and future entrepreneurs this week to celebrate innovation ahead of the annual IDEA Competition.

On Nov. 1, submissions will open for the 12th annual business competition. The event was created to identify promising entrepreneurs in northwest Minnesota and push their ideas forward through a competitive process.

Since its inception, the competition has awarded 24 winners with more than $400,000. At its event Tuesday, LaValley Industries welcomed the community to kick-off the competition and announce its commitment of $100,000 toward IDEA over the next three years.

CEO and founder Jason LaValley started his company out of his garage with just an idea in 2006. LaValley said in a release that his company's sponsorship this year is to enable others in the region to develop their own ideas and pursue the American dream.

"We've lived this," said Jorge Prince, chief financial officer of LaValley Industries, told the crowd assembled at Tuesday's event. "We started with an idea on a napkin and we've grown that to everything you see around you. We think it's pretty cool to give back to the community and to encourage you and other people to do the same thing."

Prince's comments were delivered just before a panel session where past IDEA Competition participants were able to share their experiences with the crowd. Along with LaValley, panelists included:

  • Stittsworth Meats owner Mychal Stittsworth.
  • ELITE Additive CEO Mike Block.
  • Bryce Oakes of Dean 3Digital.
  • Jeff Sullivan of Northern Industrial Distributing.
  • Sarah Hokuf of Silver Wings Coffee.
  • AirCorps Aviation General Manager Erik Hokuf.

Over the course of the panel, topics ranged from the importance of funding versus other factors such as time, when to know if an idea is worthy to transition into a business and what the competition offered emerging entrepreneurs.

"For us, the competition was very helpful," Sullivan said. "It helped put the fine pencil to the margins and helped develop our idea. It wasn't just the financial awards, it was all the other perks that came with it."

Submissions for the IDEA Competition can be found at the Northwest Minnesota Foundation's website,, under the resources tab.