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Column: Red Wing poised to spur, lead innovations

A lead story in The Economist earlier this year reported that innovation in the United States had in fact slowed. Despite the introductions of smartphones, big data storage, nanotechnology and stem cell research, access to capital, market entry costs and government regulations were all cited as impediments to innovation.

Last month, the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation reported that Minnesota is last among states in its rates of entrepreneurship.

As we emerge from the Great Recession with a slow recovery, it is important to take note that the city of Red Wing is positioning itself as a center for innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Red Wing brand, so notably tied to our history, manufactured products, tourism and the natural beauty of the area, is extending to promote new technology development and to ultimately diversify our local economy.

Our local solution to address innovation and entrepreneurship is Red Wing Ignite, which was formalized last year in partnership with US Ignite, a national initiative that recognizes 25 communities in the United States that have broadband infrastructure in place to promote business development.

Red Wing Ignite is focusing on three areas:

1. To organize a business accelerator.

2. To pilot new applications as a test bed community.

3. To host events and educational offerings.

Business accelerator Red Wing Ignite is currently improving the Community Development Building (now Ignite Building) through the support of the city, the Port Authority, the Red Wing Housing and Redevelopment Authority and several foundations and corporate sponsors.

The accelerator will feature a unique configuration of traditional office spaces, coworking spaces and conference rooms, and serve as a destination for existing and new entrepreneurs.

Test bed community As part of our association with US Ignite, Red Wing Ignite has leveraged relationships with other communities, major corporations, such as Verizon and AT&T, and the Mozilla Foundation. We have opportunities to pilot new applications in our community in priority areas, such as health care, education and workforce training, transportation, and energy.

For example, representatives from local public safety entities are working closely with several developers across North America on smartphone applications for emergency awareness.

Later this year, an Internet-based community network will launch to enable our citizens to be better connected to public, non-profit and faith based organizations.

Events and educational offerings The business accelerator will feature a state-of-the-art video conference center and will include educational offerings for Red Wing Ignite members and the community as a whole.

In 2014, Red Wing Ignite will hold the state’s first ever hack event, where programmers and others involved in software development, such as graphic designers and project managers, will work on complex problems, and offer solutions through software applications.

Accomplishments to date Red Wing Ignite has been organized as a nonprofit corporation and officers and a board of directors were recently selected. Additionally, an executive director and program coordinator have also been hired. We are leasing space in the Ignite Building and planning events for the balance of this year.

An initiative to create a local angel fund continues to progress to provide a source of equity capital to early stage technology businesses interested in expanding in or relocating to Red Wing.

So the infrastructure is being created to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Red Wing. Stay tuned for future announcements regarding Red Wing Ignite and its evolution in the community.