The Entrepreneur Fund helps people start and grow successful, locally owned small
businesses. Our mission is to promote the entrepreneurial spirit and create economic wealth and diversity by providing a range of business development services to emerging and small businesses in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin.
Since 1989, the Entrepreneur Fund has helped start, stabilize or expand more than 1,200 businesses; helped create or retain more than 3,500 jobs; provided over 600 loans totaling $12 million; and served over 10,000 people through its training, consulting and lending programs. More than 85% of business owners who receive assistance are still in business two years later. From offices in Virginia, Grand Rapids, Duluth and Superior, the Entrepreneur Fund serves 11 counties covering a 30,000-square-mile area.
Through flexible loan programs, we help individuals launch new businesses and small-business owners expand their operations. Financing is available up to $50,000 for start-up businesses, and up to $150,000 for existing businesses. The Entrepreneur Fund, with its $6 million capital pool, can be the sole lender, or it can partner with banks and economic development
organizations to provide financing.
The Greenstone Group, an initiative launched by the Entrepreneur Fund in 2008, seeks to foster a culture of entrepreneurship and develop entrepreneurial talent through Business Performance Coaching, and professional services network. Working with business, education and economic development partners, Greenstone Group expects to target support and resources toward 500 entrepreneurs in the region over the 10 years. Entrepreneurs with existing companies, meeting in peer groups or individually with a Business Performance Coach, are committing to develop and continuously improve their entrepreneurial skills, and develop and implement a plan for business growth.
The Entrepreneur Fund is a national leader in entrepreneur development and small business lending. Our CORE FOUR Business Planning Course® is used by organizations and colleges in 38 states and three foreign countries.
At the end of 2010, Entrepreneur Fund staff recognized that the organization had achieved most of the goals identified in its 2007-2012 strategic plan. In addition, the funding environment had changed significantly, both at the foundation and Federal government levels. Both board members and staff agreed that starting the process early in 2011 was good timing.
Kathy Keeley of The Keeley Group facilitated board-planning meetings in February and March of 2011. Additional meetings were held with the staff. The board reviewed the draft plan in May and provided final approval in August of 2011.
A parallel, staff-driven planning process emerged in February to respond to funding realities at the federal and foundation levels that we had anticipated for 2012 and were now expected to affect us in 2011. As planning progressed, the Entrepreneur Fund board and our clients agreed that the Entrepreneur Fund is a resource the region needs long term.
In 2009, the Entrepreneur Fund had been caught unprepared by funding shortfalls, and we knew we didn’t have the reserves to weather that sort of storm again. The management team developed an interim financial plan and, with full board support, and in February reduced the staff levels from 15 full-time staff and 12-15 independent contractors to eight full-time staff and 10 contractors.
Elements of staff planning during this process are evident in this new 5-year strategic plan. We have a clear and focused plan to continue the work we do in the region with motivated start ups, growth businesses and financing.
• We are restructuring and realigning the Entrepreneur Fund and Greenstone Group. • We are expanding our use of online training and technology strategies to ensure
continued and effective service to the scope of this vast region.
• We are striving to—and are on track to—achieve the record goals of our lending staff. Like many other organizations, we started several special projects over the past 5-10 years. The resources we raised to help launch them supported our overall budget, yet were rarely enough to do the work without distracting us from our core efforts. We are winding down these projects. We are focusing on our core strengths to support motivated start-ups and growth businesses, and we expect to strengthen our capacity as an entrepreneurial lender.
The following trends, opportunities and challenges were reviewed in preparation for strategic planning:
1. Loss of funding from public and private sources– percentage of funding from earned income, public and private sources is changing
2. Continued volatility of the economy 3. Organization inertia regarding change
4. Special projects, not fully funded, have sapped funding from core services and distracted staff
5. Potential leadership change in next five years
6. Loss of knowledge on the board with long term members going off board 7. Lack of resources to continue programs
8. Creating entrepreneurs – appeal to current political environment 9. Have to grow our way out of recession (not cut)