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DAVE HENGEL COLUMN: Supporting our small businesses and entrepreneurs

The vast majority of the work we do at Greater Bemidji is to support the small, locally owned businesses and startups of our area.

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Economic development is a very misunderstood craft. One of the greatest misunderstandings is the belief that economic development organizations like Greater Bemidji only work to recruit new, large companies to their communities, giving little to no attention to the small businesses and business startups that dot their community’s main streets and neighborhoods.

In the case of Greater Bemidji at least, this is simply not accurate. In fact, the vast majority of the work we do at Greater Bemidji is to support the small, locally-owned businesses and startups of our area.

For example, during the coronavirus pandemic, Greater Bemidji provided more than $3 million in financial support to over 300 local businesses, none of which were large businesses. Most had less than five employees and many were recent startups.

With the support of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and our partners and investors, Greater Bemidji recently made the commitment to take its support for small business owners to a new level by providing free support and resources.

I would encourage business owners and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the resources Greater Bemidji has available to help them succeed and prosper in our region.

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What are those resources? There are many. We have worked hard to build up our resources so we can be a one-stop shop for small businesses and startups. Some of the free resources we offer include:

  • An online “1,2, 3 Startup Guide” is available free of charge on our website and walks new businesses through the process of starting a business. It also provides tools to support your business planning.
  • Individual navigators. Every small business owner is assigned a Greater Bemidji staff person who serves as a single point of contact for you. The navigator works with you to find financial support, business planning assistance, permitting and other assistance you made need to start and operate a business.
  • Coworking space. The LaunchPad offers shared space to start your small business that includes gigabit broadband, meeting rooms and other amenities that are helpful for new business startups. The coworking space also allows you to network with other small business owners and entrepreneurs.
  • Marketing support. Marketing is a challenge for nearly all small businesses. The LaunchPad can provide advice and support from creating websites to social media marketing.
  • Financial resources. There are many state and regional programs that provide financial support to small businesses and startups. It’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed by the options. The LaunchPad team has the expertise to simplify and guide small business owners through the maze of programs.
  • Entrepreneur meetups. Our regular meetups are an opportunity to hear from other entrepreneurs about their startup journey, or from resources that are here to support you.
  • Training. Greater Bemidji’s LaunchPad is expanding on its available training opportunities. Training sessions such as Business 101, Marketing, Financial Planning, etc. will be offered on a quarterly basis -- all 100% free to the attendee.
  • Mentoring and peer-to-peer support. Greater Bemidji has assembled a team of volunteer, retired executives who are available to provide advice and mentoring to new entrepreneurs and small businesses. In addition, several successful entrepreneurs in the region have offered to serve as peer supports to new startups, sharing their experiences and providing encouragement and support.

These are just a few of the free resources available to our region’s small businesses and entrepreneurs. If you have a need, Greater Bemidji likely has a resource to support you.
Greater Bemidji is not alone in our commitment to meet the needs of our small businesses and startups. We work closely with other like-minded organizations such as 4-Directions Development in Red Lake, Leech Lake Financial Services in Cass Lake and the Northwest Minnesota Foundation’s Small Business Development Center to share resources and ensure that our small business owners have the best support available right here at home.

This month, you will have a couple of opportunities to take a test run of the resources the LaunchPad offers.

  • On Friday, Jan. 28, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. we will be hosting our “Launch Your Business: Basic 1.0” workshop. It will be followed on Feb. 4 with the second workshop in the series. This is a great introductory series to help you decide if owning a small business is right for you.
  • Our next Entrepreneur Meet-Up will be at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 19. Justin DeRose, an expert in remote work, will give tips on working effectively as a remote worker. On Feb. 26 the Entrepreneur Meetup will focus on people in the workforce with Advance Minnesota talking about training opportunities for workers.  

Visit the LaunchPad’s website at www.launchpadbemidji.com to view and sign up for these and all the events throughout the year.

To the small business owners and entrepreneurs in our community, you are important to us. Our locally-owned small businesses not only support our economy, but they give our town its sense of character.

Greater Bemidji is here to serve you and help you be successful in the greater Bemidji area. To our community members, show your support by shopping local. It’s an easy and effective way to support our local community.

Dave Hengel is the executive director of Greater Bemidji Economic Development. He can be reached at (218) 444-5757 or dhengel@greaterbemidji.com .

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