Initiative Foundation staff visits Long Prairie restaurant.
Initiative Foundation staff visited with Long Prairie business owners in May 2022.

Exploring New Ways to Support Entrepreneurs

ST. CLOUD, Minn.—The Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC) and Initiative Foundation have just released findings of a survey commissioned earlier this year with the Twin Cities-based Center for Economic Inclusion (CEI) to better understand local needs and opportunities to expand supports for underserved entrepreneurs.

More than 50 Black, Somali, Eastern African and other entrepreneurs of color in St. Cloud and Stearns, Benton, Sherburne and Todd counties provided input on barriers, challenges and opportunities they face in their business pursuits.

The survey and subsequent conversations revealed participants’ passions to start job-creating businesses, support the community with products and services, build wealth and create new opportunities. They also described challenges with access to information, training opportunities and obtaining funding.

Among recommendations in the detailed report, titled “Greater St. Cloud Minority Business Enterprise Needs Assessment,” were to:

  • strengthen relationships with the region’s Hispanic community
  • develop deeper relationships with neighboring Central Minnesota communities
  • gather more-detailed demographic information
  • create a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Leadership Advisory Board
  • provide mentorship and help securing loans

Additional recommendations can be found on pages 22-24 of the report, which may be accessed at

GSDC President Patti Gartland said the findings will help her organization determine appropriate roles and opportunities for the GSDC to strengthen how it supports aspiring entrepreneurs and minority-owned business enterprises to grow and thrive in the Greater St. Cloud region.

“The Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation was pleased to partner with the Initiative Foundation to fund this in-depth study to help people of color who are or wish to become successful entrepreneurs,” said Gartland. “The recommendations provide both affirmation for the value of what’s been done by the GSDC thus far and also offers specific suggestions where opportunities appropriate to the GSDC can be seized to further make a difference.”

The Initiative Foundation will use the study’s finding to shape and grow its portfolio of entrepreneurial programs. A cornerstone program is the Enterprise Academy, which packages business skills training with one-on-one support and access to lending. The program has graduated more than 125 entrepreneurs of color since launching five years ago. The Foundation also offers free and low-cost programming as well as workshops and technical assistance. The effort has supported more than 250 underserved entrepreneurs in recent years.

“The entire region benefits when more people are equipped to pursue the American dream of small business ownership,” said Matt Varilek, Initiative Foundation president. “With the information from this project and an expanded entrepreneurship team at the Initiative Foundation, we are better positioned than ever to help meet the needs of Central Minnesota’s growing business community. ”

A CEI-identified opportunity includes working with a range of regional partners to increase access to culturally appropriate loans, especially for newer entrepreneurs, and Islamic-acceptable loans for Somali and Eastern African entrepreneurs. Other opportunities include:

Reducing the financial risk for startups and new businesses by providing training, mentorship, coaching, technical assistance and flexible lending.
Elevating and training businesses owners in Minority Business Enterprise certification and supplier diversity programs.
Varilek and Gartland invite others to reflect on the report and consider ways they can join the effort to bolster the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

For additional information, contact:

  • Matt Varilek, President of the Initiative Foundation, at (320) 631-2005
  • Patti Gartland, President of the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, at (320) 252-5228