Incubator hopes to foster grassroots economic growthWhen Red Wing Downtown Main Street received a $20,000 grant last year to create an economic incubator, members weren’t quite sure where to begin.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
When Red Wing Downtown Main Street received a $20,000 grant last year to create an economic incubator, members weren’t quite sure where to begin.
“It was really a situation of, ‘Oh my god. What do we do next?’” said John Becker, president of DTMS and member of the Red Wing Innovation Incubator advisory board.
The grant came from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation after DTMS had submitted a proposal for the incubator – a tool that draws entrepreneurs to the area by providing them with services and resources.
“We can’t borrow money, but we can connect them,” Becker said of how the incubator could help an entrepreneur.
The idea is that an incubator will create jobs – and improve the economy - from the ground up. It’s the counterpart to large industrial parks, Becker said.
Industrial parks are a homerun. The incubator project hits singles, according to Becker.
“This is more of a small-ball approach,” he said.
Once the group received the grant, other local businesses and organizations – including Xcel Energy, Red Wing Port Authority and Treasure Island Resort & Casino – donated to the Red Wing Innovation Incubator, leaving the project with just under $40,000.
“We decided to invest a lot of time on the front end to educate ourselves about incubating,” Becker said.
To do this, the group visited incubators in the surrounding area, held workshops, became a member of the National Business Incubator Association and attended business incubation conferences.
In addition, an advisory committee of six local business people, whose job was to define what the incubator will target, was formed.
Last week, the group narrowed the number of directions the Red Wing incubator could take to four: A food industry incubator, light industrial work incubator, technology incubator and co-location (a common area that entrepreneurs can work together in).
“We had a wide-ranging discussion,” said Mike Melstad, member of the advisory board and executive director of the Red Wing Family YMCA. “We honed it down to the best spaces and what market trends seem to be.”
“We wanted to make sure we focused on areas that there was a community connection to already,” Becker said.
The project doesn’t have enough money to incubate all four areas, but Becker said it could start with one or two.
Now the incubator is ready to enter what Becker calls the “operational level” – actually helping entrepreneurs start their businesses. The Red Wing Innovation Incubator is currently taking applications from entrepreneurs who want to start their business in downtown Red Wing. They will be evaluated on the strength of their business plan, their level of innovation and how whether their plan meets the goals of the incubator.
“It’s a very simple application,” Becker said. “Everybody will be given an honest evaluation.”
Becker added that the intention is not to turn anyone away, but to stimulate a culture of incubation and to create an entrepreneurial spirit in downtown Red Wing.
“Entrepreneurs beget entrepreneurs. They bring with them this whole camaraderie,” Becker said. “They feed off of each other’s energy.”
What: Red Wing Innovation Incubator
Where: Downtown Main Street, 207 East Ave.