The newly opened Rapids Brewing Company in Grand Rapids served as the venue Monday to celebrate the Entrepreneur Fund’s recent recognition as the Small Business Administration’s Rural Lender of the Year.
Accepting the award on behalf of the Entrepreneur Fund, CEO Shawn Wellnitz said: “Access to adequate financing is one of the biggest challenges rural entrepreneurs face in Minnesota.”
Nancy Libersky, Minnesota SBA district director, spoke to the impact the EF has had on the region’s small business climate. “The Entrepreneur Fund is definitely one of the SBA’s strongest partners,” she said, adding that the nonprofit is one of the top 20 microlenders in the country and assists with 56 percent of the microloans in the state of Minnesota.
Aggregate loan totals for the Entrepreneur Fund have grown substantially in the last five years. In 2013, 79 loans totaling $2.7 million were dispursed through the Entrepreneur Fund. By 2018, those numbers had ballooned to 210 loans totaling $12.6 million.
Libersky said other statistics demonstrate the need for this growth. While 72 percent of the land in the U.S. is rural and 46 million Americans live in rural settings, rural communities face far more obstacles obtaining working capital, she said.
In addition to posting strong numbers when it comes to loan dollars, the Entrepreneur Fund also has a proven track record with its lending and business assistance programs. Libersky reported that 89 percent of companies which receive assistance from the Entrepreneur Fund are still in business five years later. Rapids Brewing, another business that has received Entrepreneur Fund support has been open just six weeks, but is posting strong numbers, she noted.
Also present to laud the Entrepreneur Fund’s accomplishments were U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, who said; “Our small businesses are the backbone of our country.” Ida Rukavina read a letter of support from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Entrepreneur Fund outgoing Chair of the Board Diane Weber noted; “thriving rural communities will always include healthy small businesses.”
Those in attendance at Monday’s event also heard from regional business owners who received financing through the Entrepreneur Fund, and Wade Fauth, vice president of the Blandin Foundation, the state’s largest rural-based philanthropic organization.