In 2016, the Initiative Foundation brought together St. Cloud-area partners to explore ways a partnership-based model could tap the entrepreneurial nature of local residents and accelerate them on the path to business and job creation. “After many meetings, asking lots of questions, making some mistakes, and enduring some awkward moments, the team focused on using an adaptation of the Twin Cities-based Neighborhood Development Center model to shape a program for Central Minnesota called Enterprise Academy,” said Ismail Mohamed, Enterprise Academy program officer.
This last weekend, On May 7th, the most recent Enterprise Academy cohort celebrated its graduation. It marked the ninth St. Cloud cohort to celebrate this achievement.
Enterprise Academy is a 12-week training course that includes one-on-one coaching and business planning; micro-lending and financing strategies; and assistance with everything from developing store layouts to navigating bookkeeping programs to accepting credit card payments. While the Enterprise Academy has a distinct focus on supporting underserved racial and ethnic minorities, the program also serves veterans, women, low-income, small-town business owners, and anyone who has faced barriers in their efforts to open a business.
The program’s first graduating class (August 2018) featured 10 students pursuing an array of business interests — from trucking and transportation to a medical transcriptionist to a cosmetics and clothing store to a salon. About 100 more students have since graduated from the program.
Establishing strong partnerships has been essential to the success of the Enterprise Academy. The Initiative Foundation realized early on that it needed strong community connections to build a meaningful program. “By partnering with the Central Minnesota Community Empowerment Organization, and later Higher Works Collaborative, now co-partners in the St. Cloud area, the Initiative Foundation was able to establish an immediate feedback loop to ensure the program was delivering the content students needed,” Mohamed said. “The importance of partnerships extends to our funders, too. Since its inception, and because of the Initiative Foundation’s 35-plus years of results-oriented work in economic and community development in Central Minnesota, we have been able to attract funding at the local, state, and national level.” Generous Enterprise Academy funders include the Central Minnesota Community Foundation; the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Falcon National Bank; the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development; the Otto Bremer Trust; the Wells Fargo Foundation; the U.S. Small Business Administration; and U.S. Bank.
“One of the greatest joys is to witness when a spark has been ignited and a student is equipped with the knowledge and information they need to accelerate their business venture,” said Donniel Robinson, entrepreneurship programs officer at the Initiative Foundation. The Enterprise Academy is a competitive, application-driven program. Students are asked to pay a small fee to secure their seats at the table and to take responsibility for their outcomes. Classes generally are offered in the spring and fall in the St. Cloud and the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy areas.
There are two great ways that people can support the Enterprise Academy, and both involve giving — either time or resources. “If you’re a business professional and you have a desire to give back to the community, consider sharing your expertise, whether it’s finance, accounting, marketing, communications, customer relationship management, ecommerce, or some other small business specialty,” Robinson said. “We’re always looking for professionals who can share their technical expertise and help to mentor students in the program.”
Contact Ismail Mohamed (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Donniel Robinson (email@example.com) to learn how you can align with this effort. To support the program financially, donors can visit ifound.org/give to make a gift to the Initiative Foundation and its programs.
Through networking, collaborating, learning, and growth, the partnership-based Enterprise Academy model is helping to put people—and the wider community—on a path to greater prosperity and economic independence.